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Taken for Granted: Position and Setup of Your Microscope

Although I say ‘taken for granted’, over the years of working in and managing microscope facilities, it quickly became clear that the position of the microscope, user position and set-up were aspects which were not considered by many users.

These are fundamental points which not only take strain from your eyes, back and so on, but can improve your imaging. You are less likely to spend a long time searching slides for that perfect field of view if you are struggling to see details on your slide because of sunlight streaming through a window, or if you have back pain and neck strain.

I worked in a laboratory which had the main microscope right next to a window. It always felt as if the microscope lamp was constantly struggling to compete with the sunlight streaming in from outside! If you have a portable microscope in the lab, then move it to a position where ambient light will not affect your viewing. You want to eliminate as much ambient light as possible. The ideal position would be in a corner of the lab as far away from windows as possible. If you can, move the microscope to a separate window-less room as not only should you be able to control the ambient light, but you are less likely to be disturbed by other lab members (or pestered for results from your Prof./group leader!).

If you don’t have one already, find an adjustable chair and play around with the height, angle of back and so on. You will hopefully spend many happy hours looking at your slides, so it is important you find a comfortable and ergonomic position. You need to be able to look into the eye pieces without bending your neck and with your back as straight as possible. If you are also using a monitor to look at your specimens then the top of it should preferably be in line with your eyes. You might also need to adjust the monitor height (that’s where all those old text books come in handy!).

Now that you and your microscope are sitting comfortably, you may begin! But, hold on just a minute – there’s a couple of things you need to check before switching it on.

The first and most obvious step is to remove your microscope cover. Yes, the cover you have to keep out dust and keep curious eyes and sticky fingers away from the delicate instrument! If you don’t have the original cover, you can usually order new ones from microscopy/lab supply company, or hey, just grab a bin liner. It’s not rocket science (unless you are working in the field of aerospace engineering!).

Next, find the light control (usually on the microscope base/body) – make sure it is turned down to its minimum level, or turned off. This means you won’t be sending a large electrical current straight into a cold microscope bulb.

Finally, check that the objectives are turned to the lowest magnification. Starting with the 5X objective means you can familiarise and orientate yourself around your specimen on the slide before finding something interesting and zooming in.

After you session, it is a good idea (and good etiquette) to turn the objective turret back to the lowest magnification, the light source back down to minimum (or off) and replace the cover to keep out any dust.

Do you have any good tips for correct microscopy etiquette? Leave a comment below.

And if you enjoyed this article you can find more great information like this in my new ebook ‘Before You Touch that Microscope! The practical know-how that every microscopist must have‘.

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