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Increasing Student Understanding of Microscope Optics by Building and Testing the Limits of Simple, Hand-Made Model Microscopes

    Authors: Kevin Drace1,*, Brett Couch2, Patrick J. Keeling2
    VIEW AFFILIATIONS HIDE AFFILIATIONS
    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Mercer University, Macon, GA 31207; 2: Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T1Z4
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 03 May 2012
    • Supplementary materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org.
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Department of Biology, Mercer University, 1400 Coleman Avenue, Macon, GA, 31207. Phone: 478-301-2646. Fax: 478-301-2067. Email: drace_km@mercer.edu.
    • Copyright © 2012 American Society for Microbiology
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 45-49. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.374
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    Abstract:

    The ability to effectively use a microscope to observe microorganisms is a crucial skill required for many disciplines within biology, especially general microbiology and cell biology. A basic understanding of the optical properties of light microscopes is required for students to use microscopes effectively, but this subject can also be a challenge to make personally interesting to students. To explore basic optical principles of magnification and resolving power in a more engaging and hands-on fashion, students constructed handmade lenses and microscopes based on Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s design using simple materials—paper, staples, glass, and adhesive putty. Students determined the power of their lenses using a green laser pointer to magnify a copper grid of known size, which also allowed students to examine variables affecting the power and resolution of a lens such as diameter, working distance, and wavelength of light. To assess the effectiveness of the laboratory’s learning objectives, four sections of a general microbiology course were given a brief pre-activity assessment quiz to determine their background knowledge on the subject. One week after the laboratory activity, students were given the same quiz (unannounced) under similar conditions. Students showed significant gains in their understanding of microscope optics.

Key Concept Ranking

Electron Microscopes
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Bunsen Burner
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References & Citations

1. Egerton FN2006A history of the ecological sciences, Part 19: Leeuwenhoek’s microscopic natural historyBulletin of the Ecological Society of America87475810.1890/0012-9623(2006)87[47:AHOTES]2.0.CO;2 http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/0012-9623(2006)87[47:AHOTES]2.0.CO;2
2. Keeling P2009A 1673 view of the microscopic universe: Make your own van Leeuwenhoek microscopeMAKE Magazine20125128
4. Princeton University Environmental and Health Safety2011Safety recommendations for laser pointershttp://web.princeton.edu/sites/ehs/labpage/laserpointersafety.htm
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2012-05-03
2017-06-28

Abstract:

The ability to effectively use a microscope to observe microorganisms is a crucial skill required for many disciplines within biology, especially general microbiology and cell biology. A basic understanding of the optical properties of light microscopes is required for students to use microscopes effectively, but this subject can also be a challenge to make personally interesting to students. To explore basic optical principles of magnification and resolving power in a more engaging and hands-on fashion, students constructed handmade lenses and microscopes based on Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s design using simple materials—paper, staples, glass, and adhesive putty. Students determined the power of their lenses using a green laser pointer to magnify a copper grid of known size, which also allowed students to examine variables affecting the power and resolution of a lens such as diameter, working distance, and wavelength of light. To assess the effectiveness of the laboratory’s learning objectives, four sections of a general microbiology course were given a brief pre-activity assessment quiz to determine their background knowledge on the subject. One week after the laboratory activity, students were given the same quiz (unannounced) under similar conditions. Students showed significant gains in their understanding of microscope optics.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1

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FIGURE 1

Brief instructions on making a microscope. To make the lens, first melt (A) and stretch (B) a section of glass (most easily the thin end of a Pasteur pipette), making sure to remove it from the flame before stretching it. Break the stretched glass and slowly feed one end into the flame to re-melt the glass, resulting in a near-spherical lens attached to the end of the stretched glass (C). Break the lens from the stretched glass and sandwich it between the two sheets of cardstock, making sure to center the lens between the two holes, and staple them together (D). Attach the sample to be viewed to the adhesive putty, and then attach the adhesive putty to the thin paper side of the microscope with the sample positioned over the lens (E). To view (F), place a finger on the putty and hold the microscope close to one eye and pointed towards a mild light source (for example overhead lighting or a window, not directly at a strong light source). Focusing is achieved by pushing the putty up or drawing it down, pivoting the sample towards or away from the lens, respectively.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 45-49. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.374
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FIGURE 2

An example microscope and setup for estimating the power of the microscope: finished microscope with lens (A); setup for projecting an image of an electron-microscope grid through the microscope lens (B–C); measuring the size of the projected electron-microscope (D).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 45-49. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.374
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FIGURE 3

Class-generated data comparing the lens diameter with the magnification power of each microscope.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 45-49. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.374
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Pre- and post-assessment quiz results.

Note: Each question evaluates the student’s knowledge as it relates to the objectives of the laboratory activity. Error bars represent the standard deviation from the mean.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 45-49. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.374
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Image of FIGURE 5

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FIGURE 5

Student evaluation of the laboratory activity.

Note: Error bars represent the standard deviation from the mean of each of the four courses.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 45-49. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.374
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