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