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Ask Slashdot: Advice On Child-Friendly Microscopes?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the skip-the-electrified-eye-piece dept.

Education 118

OceanMan7 writes "My 7-year-old son is getting very interested in microscopic things — from bacteria to parameciums (paramecia?) Not being a biologist, I would appreciate advice on what type of microscope to get. I'd be operating it and he viewing with supervision. I'd like something better than a toy and plan to buy it used, if possible. Extra points if it's stereo and also allows me to view opaque objects at low magnification."

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Burn ants (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274181)

Try the microscope you burned ants with.

Re:Burn ants (3, Informative)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274269)

The ant burning ones are called magnifying glasses.

Anyway, Stereo microscopes generally have less magnification, forget viewing bacteria with these, if you want to study the surface structure of wood or insect eyes, then sure, get a stero.

Otherwise, get a classic 'university-grade' turret microscope with one oil immersion objective.
Consider however that you may need dyes to stain your samples or you won't see all that much unless you get a phase contrast microscope. Consider also that you need thin translucent slices if you want to view tissues. If you just want to explore your saliva or the fauna in forest ponds, then you don't need as much.

Also, there's no microscopic pornography or ultraviolence so I'm pretty sure you can let him operate it all on his own, just make sure he doesn't oil up the normal objectives or store the slides in his mouth.

Re:Burn ants (5, Informative)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274445)

>Consider also that you need thin translucent slices if you want to view tissues

You can make a microtome out of a bolt and a nut. UNF or UNEF thread pitch is helpful

Screw nut on to end of bolt by a couple of threads.

Put sample in cavity at end.

Pour paraffin wax into cavity and let cool to hold the sample in place.

Take a razor blade, screw bolt into nut by small partial turns and slice off thin slices of your sample on to slides.

taa, daa.


Re:Burn ants (2)

bughunter (10093) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274737)

You know, some days I can hardly remember a name to save my life.

But things like this I will never, ever forget.

And hopefully, some day, I may even get to use it.

Re:Burn ants (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274871)

I would patent it if it wasn't in the Tasco microscope manual I had as a kid.

BMO - passin' on knowledge through the generations.

Re:Burn ants (2)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274965)

I would patent it if it wasn't in the Tasco microscope manual I had as a kid.

BMO - passin' on knowledge through the generations.

nothings stopping you, just put a "view the image with a computer" to the end.

on the sidenote, what's a good usb microscope?

Re:Burn ants (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275045)

>nothings stopping you, just put a "view the image with a computer" to the end.

Sigh, probably true.

>on the sidenote, what's a good usb microscope?

Don't know. Never tried one.

And after looking for 10 minutes, "How much do you want to spend?"

There are toys all the way up to industrial quality.


Re:Burn ants (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#40280553)

How well does that work?

I also wonder if there's a way one could do cryosection like this. Freeze a sample in some solution of water and corn syrup such that it would be possible to section it like that.

Re:Burn ants (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40280677)

>How well does that work?

It works as well as you can expect. After a couple of full turns, the sample gets loose and you have to reheat it and reseat it. It's not a lab quality microtome, but then it costs only a few cents, maximum.

But for what it is, it works surprisingly well. You can use a jam nut behind the sample holding nut to better control the turn friction.

Freeze a sample in some solution of water and corn syrup such that it would be possible to section it like that.

Freezing tends to make cells burst open from ice crystals, doesn't it?


Re:Burn ants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40277293)

Stereo could be stereo on the eyepiece, which is quite possible without cutting down on the quality of the microscope. It does of course halve the brightness, and doubles the eyepiece price (since you need two). Quite probably not worth it.

Re:Burn ants (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#40280535)

Second that. "Child friendly" in this case means "cheap enough that if he breaks it it won't be a big deal." I had a cheap plastic "kids" microscope when I was a kid from Fischer price or something like that. It was less useful than a magnifying glass. I used it as a toy gun mostly. That didn't deter me from it: I'm a cell biologist today, but I would have loved a real microscope.

This dissecting microscope looks pretty cool. []

I woudn't rule out compound scopes though. If he's interested in paramecia and bacteria, microbes, he's interested in plenty of things that are going to be visible with a compound microscope. A drop of pond water, you can generally see more with the compound scope than you can with the dissecting scope.

Also, somewhat unrelated, show him this virtual microscope [] and Nikon small world galleries [] .

Re:Burn ants (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 2 years ago | (#40280593)

eBay is littered with student microscopes.

USB Microscope (5, Informative)

RackinFrackin (152232) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274207)

I'd suggest a $100 or so USB microscope. You can use it to look at opaque objects, and you can have the picture on your computer screen. That would be a big help when trying to point out what the kid is seeing.

Re:USB Microscope (1)

ArgumentBoy (669152) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274625)

Years ago when my girls were little, we had one of these from Logitech. It worked fine (came with some software). It was essentially just a camera with some close-up capability. I can also recommend little $10 portable microscopes from, among others, Edmund Scientific. They're about the size of a cigar case. They're a small hassle to get focused but you can take them anywhere. They even have a little light.

Re:USB Microscope (1)

qubezz (520511) | more than 2 years ago | (#40277083)

I have one of these for seeing small things on the recommendation of someone else: []
Good for inspecting how clean the record stylus is, reading the markings on surface mount components, seeing what an iPhone4s pixel looks like. I probably use it once a week for something, knowing I having it. For examining cellular life, you'll need to prepare slides and have a real microscope, but for seeing what common materials like fibers look like up close, the cheapie does fine and is portable.

Child Friendly you say . . . . (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274925)

Usually, that means inexpensive and military grade toughness. Two things rarely found in a precision optic :D

However, depending on your budget, you have a lot of options. First, some clarification.

You mentioned stereo being a plus. This can mean two things. Stereo objective, or stereo eyepieces. Stereo objectives are
typically found on lower power scopes used for close up work on things like circuit boards, coins, stamps, gems, jewelery, insects, etc.
Stereo eyepieces ( binocs ) are can be found on both low and high power ( compound ) scopes and are typically an upgrade ( read that, more $$$ )

Considering the age of your interested viewer, you probably want to start on the low end and work your way up if they continue to express
an interest in the field as the years go by. The internet has many sites that sell scopes, some of which I would consider to be in the budget
range for the average seven year old. Some I've used in the past: ( in no particular order )

Even Amazon and Ebay would probably be valid places to look.

Prices are typically dictated by type, options and manufacturer.

That said, consider the following:

The low end high power setups are going to start around $100 USD for monocular ( single eyepiece ) systems with a 1D stage ( It only moves
up and down ) and LED light source. Probably what you're going to want to look at for a starter scope.

Mid range will get into Binoc ( dual ) eyepieces, better light sources ( variable halogen ), better / more objectives and a multi-dimensional stage.
( stage movement up / down, slide movement forward / back / side )

High end simply builds on the mid range with better quality components and glass.

For a seven year old ? I would start with something along these lines:

or, if you really want the binocs, maybe something like this:

It's certainly an interesting hobby. I have a pair of scopes ( low power and a compound ) on my desk here at home I use to look at whatever
strikes my fancy. Personally, I would rather have the physical scope vs the USB. That's just a personal preference though.

Re:Child Friendly you say . . . . (2)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276143)

USB versus physical scope is a toss-up. You'll get better image clarity with a physical scope unless you're using a really good USB camera - the less expensive ones tend to be web-cam class.

On the other hand a USB scope makes it easier involve friends in the experience since they can all see what's going on at once, plus with halfway decent software they can easily capture photographs and video. Good digital zoom can actually draw out a surprising amount of detail provided a bicubic or better filter is used (so software based, not whatever crap might be built into the camera). It also eliminates the learning curve on keeping eyelashes out of the way and reduces image jitter due to muscle-induced vibrations in both the eye and hand. Software is key in this case though - there's some really bad microscope software out there.

There's also the option of a physical scope with a projector hood, common with child-oriented microscopes - they tend to be dim, but you get a (small) "on screen" image without pixels, so a magnifying glass can be used to observe finer detail, and a normal camera can be used for photos/video. []

Obviously any screen-based 'scope will lack stereoscopic display, which as others have pointed out will also add significant expense. For the same expense you could add much greater magnification, which if they're interested in microbial life may be better investment, 1-2000x is great for observing populations, but barely enough to see the most obvious individual details. Personally I have to agree with the sentiment expressed by several others - kids' interests are often passing things so unless you're hemorrhaging money get them a decent starter 'scope, then if they're still interested by Christmas you can get them a truly good one and they'll be better able to appreciate just how awesome it is. As a general policy that will let let you fund their exploration of a lot more fields of interest, while simultaneously allowing you to provide them with much better equipment for the interests that end up truly captivating them.

Also, as a tangential point, for low-level magnification a high-power magnifying glass large enough to have a fair-sized region where both eyes can see the target is a great stereoscopic magnifier - it's worth drawing children's attention to the fact since it's not immediately obvious and can require a bit of conscious alignment for maximum effect (close one eye then the other to get your target in the "average center") .

Re:USB Microscope (2)

John Bokma (834313) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275471)

I recently bought a Celestron USB Microscope and returned it. It's just a cheap webcam with a bad lens in front. The LED lighting worked erratically.

Re:USB Microscope (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275713)

How about living creatures like ants? Also works with Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. :)

Re:USB Microscope (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40276873)

I got a veho USB microscope for cheap to look at small electronics joins (I'm half blind). as always the cd that arrives with new hardware goes in the garbage.

a simple 1 line .bat file does the job after vlc player is installed...

vlc.exe dshow:// :dshow-vdev="Vimicro USB2.0 UVC PC Camera" :dshow-adev= :live-caching=0

shortcut to the .bat file in the start menu means full screen access to the microscope is only 2 seconds away whenever it's needed.

Re:USB Microscope (1)

Richard_J_N (631241) | more than 2 years ago | (#40277843)

I always thought these were "toys" - but having received one as a gift, which can do x400, I'm pretty impressed with it. (Also, just works under Linux, as a v4l device).

You might also consider an SLR camera with a macro lens: you can pick up an Olympus OM1 for about $20 on eBay, and add a 300mm macro lens for perhaps $30.

Intel QX3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274223)

This is $149 on Amazon, and seems to be a good all-around choice that can do lots of tricks.

Re:Intel QX3 (2)

ZahrGnosis (66741) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274355)

Hear hear. I had one of the old Intel QX microscopes and loved it. Any USB microscope will let a child see things on a nice big screen and many of them, like the QX3, are ruggedized for kids. It's pricey, though, compared to other desktop USB microscopes of which there are many, as other posters are mentioning (search Amazon), but the design should make it worthwhile. I haven't used the software in a while; it was a bit buggy last time I played with it, but hopefully it's improved.

If you really want eyepieces, there are some that do double duty -- Celestron makes entry-level microscopes that have replaceable eyepieces (so you can use it like a traditional microscope or mount a camera on it, but not both at the same time), or ones with LCD screens directly built in instead of traditional viewfinders.

As you near the $250 barrier you can get scopes that start to do double-duty, and your options increase. These are more lab-ready and may need more oversight for a 7-year-old, and frankly I find them harder to use for kids, but the ability to look through an eyepiece to set up and focus a shot and then discover the results on a computer make for good two-person work in parent-child fashion.

Important question (1)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274425)

And now for the most important question: does it work under Linux? Seriously, do these USB microscopes work like webcams as described in this Googled link [] ?

Re:Important question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274855)

And now for the most important question: does it work under Linux?

Seriously, do these USB microscopes work like webcams as described in this Googled link [] ? 5 second search.

Re:Important question (1)

ZahrGnosis (66741) | more than 2 years ago | (#40277255)

Someone with more recent experience should answer this since, as I said somewhere up above, I haven't used one of these in a while. That said, several of the USB Microscopes I've used work as fairly standards-compliant webcams, particularly (IIRC) with GSPCA and V4L [] support.

What you won't get on linux is support for computer controlled focus, enabling and disabling lights or any other features that the microscopes have, unless they have explicit linux tools bundled, which some may have, but I have not worked with any so I can't say specifically.

Re:Intel QX3 (2)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274469)

Intel QX3

Maybe a decade ago.

Have you seen what you can get for that sort of money these days?

Re:Intel QX3 (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#40278583)

QX3 and even the QX5 are ancient hardware. Both are out of production. I can run the QX3 in WIN7x64 using Windows Virtual PC, but just barely. If old hardware has no WIN7 USB driver, you are mostly out of luck unless you resort to OS emulation. $149 is a crazy price. These are cheap.

USB microscope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274225)

Besides being able to take pictures, it doesnt require an eyepiece so its easier and safer to use.

Re:USB microscope (3, Funny)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274631)

Safety, because microscope accidents are the number #1 reason for death in children 5-15

Re:USB microscope (1)

rthille (8526) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275087)

Well, children tend to share, and share things like pinkeye :-)

Re:USB microscope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40275647)

Which, like the microscope itself, will provide a valuable learning experience.

Re:USB microscope (3, Funny)

dkettmann76 (1207898) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275781)

Buying Tip: Magnification of 1000x is required to see bacterial pink-eye

Ask any major manufacturer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274229)

Find a salesman whose target customers include high school science departments or college biology departments. They know all the features of their products and are used to selling for use by rank beginners and the serious early college biology majors. Stereo is great but costs more.
Any microscope will let you view solid opaque objects like a coin if illuminated from above but the powers may be too high to be useful; if you can change the objective lens you might be able to solve this problem. If you really want a survey of all levels of beginning microscopes, a company rep is the right answer (assuming the company makes real microscopes and not just toys-- avoid Mattel. [grin]

Maybe better than stereo is a scope that has a USB sensor, feed and software to let your images loom large on your monitor screen. I would prefer that capability to stereo every time.

Good luck and happy microscoping!

Just get an iPad! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274231)

An iPad can do anything!!!!!!!!!!

Re:Just get an iPad! (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276077)

    It's not very good at sharpening a band saw. I tried. It was strangely satisfying though.

    If I can get a few more donated, I'd like to try them as baking cookie sheets, shooting target backstops, and trebuchet ammunition.

    Hurry up kids, send your donations, the trebuchet is almost done. The neighbors are starting to complain, so we'll have to do it soon. Maybe I shouldn't have been test firing it with neighborhood cats, free-roaming children, and random yard sale items. It's all for science, they should stop complaining.

lol (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274297)

this is what your worrying your kids are doing? poking there eye out in a microscope?
HOW about you get a real one and sit there with the kid while he uses really
i was 6 when i had a chemistry set that would be illegal in todays world and mircoscope at 7...
can't wait to see what your kid turns out to be cause your looking to dumb up everything it wont be very useful to him/her

Re:lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40275581)

Please tell me how you were raised so I can do everything differently.

webcam (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274321)

One of the webcam models works well with kids because its cheap and displays on a big monitor, so you can look at stuff together. Some of the better ones show up as if they're normal webcams so you can have some weird internet chats with friends and family (G+ hangouts?) "Hey grandma, look at this giant ant leg" etc.

The other alternative is ebay. A kid is much better off with a worn out but "real" microscope that's probably cheaper than a hunk of Chinese plastic anyway. Some people are weirdly proud of being completely mechanically inept... they are a bad target market for used scopes.

Another alternative is new chinese steel. At a place like you can spend about the cost of a good video card and get a new, "real" student grade scope that'll last forever.

Absolute worst case scenario is a cheap hunk of Chinese plastic with "900x" magnification listed on the box right next to ridiculous artists interpretations and electron microscope images. Oddly enough the marketing is just about as misleading and poor for other optical devices like telescopes.

You mentioned "parameciums". Its easy to find samples of plain ole dirt, grass leaves, etc. If you want "real prepared slides of weird or interesting organisms", go somewhere like, "life sciences" "microscope slides". Note that a good prepared, preserved, stained slide is gonna be like $5 per slide. There are somewhat dodgier suppliers at a somewhat lower cost, but not as cheap as you'd think. On the other hand, my kids find it infinitely more interesting to run around in the yard, pick something up off the ground, and look at it under the 'scope.

Maybe the best place to start a kid with microscopes is a hand held magnifying glass. Much as you're supposed to "do astronomy" by starting with eyes first, then binocs, then get a scope...

I have no financial connection with any of the above other than spending money on stuff like this.

Humm 7 y.o (3, Insightful)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274333)

Get a toy one

At 7, it will be great

Get preferabily one with >= 50x mag, so you can see cells, etc

Later you can think of a better one

I really don't remember how old I was when I got my first (toy) one, but it was a built-it-yourself kit

Then I got one that was 100x-300x-600x (which was 'more real') and it was lots of fun

Re:Humm 7 y.o (1)

ve3oat (884827) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274639)

I would suggest that the quality of a first microscope is very important. I have to tell you that my first microscope (at about age 8) was wonderful. It was ordered from the Eaton's catalog (we live in Canada) and it was *very simple* with a single magnification (60x, if I remember) but with very good optics. I and my brother learned so much from that little instrument! A few years later I was given a "better" one with three objective lenses on a turret for 100x-200x-300x magnification and a kit of accessories. Well, the optics were terrible and it was quite frankly a piece of junk. Having cut my teeth on a simple but very good one, I was so disappointed with the new one that I lost interest completely in microscopy. I suspect that lead to my discovery of electronics and a later degree in physics. Never took a course in biology and all I remember today about biology is what I learned as a young lad with that well-made 60x microscope.

Agreed (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274873)

I got a reasonably decent scope when I was around 7. It was great. Cheap scopes on the other hand are just not worth the bother, they'll barely work and nothing loses kid's interest faster than some cranky finicky thing that won't produce interesting results even if you do fiddle with it for an hour. There's really just no reason to skimp that much either when decent stuff can be had for a couple bills and the cheap worthless junk is still just about the same price.

God, the smell of Canada balsam still takes me back to my youth :)

Re:Agreed (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275441)

You're assuming that access to good equipment is equally affordable in all countries.

But well, I could get results from the finicky microscope, good results, I'd say

Apart from the optics, a good source light is essencial

Re:Agreed (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276001)

Eh, my experience with finicky 'scopes is that you really never get decent results. Best one I've ever had was a beat up old 50's bio lab scope that the local college dumped when they upgraded their biology building. Cost, nothing. OTOH you can spend $150 on a new 'toy' grade scope and you'll be lucky if you ever manage to focus on anything or get enough light into it to see much. While something like EBay is always a crap shoot you're more likely to get something you can have some real fun with for your money I'd think (though honestly I haven't looked to see what they have).

Re:Agreed - light (1)

pooh666 (624584) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276115)

The sort of cheapy scope I had was great, as long as I used my desktop lamp instead of the built in light source which was way too weak.

Re:Agreed - light (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276289)

Yeah, the one I had didn't even HAVE a built-in light. Still worked reasonably well. Something like this would probably be a good bet: []

Everything you basically need, good optics. You'll need a light, but honestly a desk clamp and a decent LED light will do fine. Not too pricey and you can get good results without too much fiddling. Should be fairly rugged too.

Re:Agreed - light (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#40277949)

Yeah, a light source and good optics go a long way

Also, good sample preparation is essential. I guess most of the problems are there.

For a light source, forget about the "built in" methods. Even a desk lamp goes a long way. And if you try different positions you can get great results, or even go for reflected light instead of transmitted light (depending on the sample)

Re:Agreed - light (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 2 years ago | (#40278129)

Oh yeah, I still have the desk lamp, lol, though the 'scope itself finally did succumb to curious children with small tools... lol. I can remember all sorts of tricks to lighting. Well slides are a great idea. You can also get plastic cover slips, which are probably not a bad idea for kids, though I'm sure they are generally inferior. Even with my bad childish sample prep though we managed to make some pretty interesting observations. Helps to have a set of prepared slides though. Damn it was fun being a kid around our place.

Re:Humm 7 y.o (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274813)

The non-professional ones having 600x-1200x maximum magnification where quite cheap a long time ago I got mine as a present ($100-200). I think the submitter should see what schools are buying.
  The real issue is in the collection, preparing and storing samples, which involves chemicals and knifes, and requires some ability to concentrate. Without the proper dealing with the samples the quality of the microscope goes to waste.
  Imaging would be nice and motivating as well, so the usb microscopes the others have suggested might fit the job description nicely.

Re:Humm 7 y.o (2)

fermion (181285) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275165)

The thing is optics in a microscope are fragile. The controls are build for adult like dexterity and size and strength. A kid can use it, I was doing microscopy in elementary school, but never really working the controls. If you want the kid to be fully engaged with the instrument, you have to buy an instrument made for the kid.

I would also suggest that unless the primary goal i to teach how to work a microscope, mount slides, that sort of thing, a less traditional style might be in order. The eyeclops, for instance, used to have a hand held unit with a screen and memory stick storage. It let the kid go out, magnify things, and create a collage or whatever. No slicing, no mounting, none of that fun stuff, just analysis.

Re:Humm 7 y.o (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275425)


I remember that in school we were instructed on how to use the microscope, but it's very easy to mishandle it

So, for kids, go for an affordable choice

Re:Humm 7 y.o (2)

dbc (135354) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275597)

So.... I'm thinking you're not a parent, and that you are not speaking from actual experience. This is pretty much the exact opposite of advice I gave below. A toy microscope will be nothing but frustration and will kill the child's interest. My daughter had a proper microscope at 7. I had a proper microscope at 8. A toy microscope is nothing but demotivating frustration in a box.

Motor skill considerations are key, though. I'm on the board of a small science education non-profit, we teach kids from ages 5-12. At 7, there are fine motor skill limitations that won't be resolved until somewhere in the 11 to 13 year old range. We spend a lot of time designing lessons around that. So a microscope for a 7 year old needs smooth controls. No toy will have smooth controls. Only better lab microscopes will have suitable controls.

When you do have children, don't hold them back by giving them crap imitations of real tools and instruments -- that's just cruel. Unfortunately, it's not unusual.

Tinocular scope? (1)

tenex (766192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274395)

I'm not sure of your budget or whether you are looking at this for yourself or your son, but a trinocular scope allows human binary focus on the subject/target as well as a digital imaging output that can be displayed on a dedicated Workstation or PC. These images can then be captured and later analysed.

This is what my techs use at work for FA on PCAs... but YMMV with "bacteria to paramecium's".


This one. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274407)

I used this one [] growing up.

USB or not... (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274417)

I'm a geek and while I love the idea of USB microscoped, the cameras in them aren't all that great. It costs money to do right. I'd think that you can get a beautiful unpowered optical microscope on eBay or Cragislist. Make sure it's got 2 oculars and 3 or 4 objective lenses, with immersion. For use inside, a LED flashlight works quite well as a light source. You'd also be well advised to read up on stains. They make optical microscopy way more fun.

Hay Infusion (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274419)

I can't comment on modern microscopes because I haven't used one in years. But whichever one you decide on, be sure to concoct a hay infusion. Get a jar full of pond water and add a handful of hay or even grass clippings. Put it aside somewhere in the garage where it can stink without bothering people too much. It will yield up the most wonderful assortment of one-celled critters for your microscopic viewing pleasure--paramecia, volvox, those wonderful beings called stentors--and lots of other great stuff besides.

I write this with appreciation for the best high school biology teacher of all time, Mr. Ford, whose hay infusion was legendary for the amazing odors that emanated from it. He would periodically add more pond water or hay. A beatific smile would come over his face, and he'd say, "Oh, yeah. That's really ripe!" In all fairness, he also taught me the virtues of meticulous notes and drawings. But I suspect most of his students remember his hay infusions. Enjoy!!

Re:Hay Infusion (0)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274589)

I'm jealous. My high school biology teacher was an ultra-Christian disbeliever of evolution, and because she taught deep in the bible belt in Georgia, she was allowed to impose her stupidity on us in almost every lesson. I'll never forget how she started the chapter on Evolution in our textbooks: "Now, the law requires that I cover this nonsense, but before we begin, let me tell you what really happened [puts down biology text, picks up her ever-present bible] 'In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth...'"

At least the quiz she gave afterwards was for extra credit, although I'm sure that was because legally she wasn't allowed to actually count that crap against our GPA, not because of any open-mindedness on her part.

Thank God for the internet, because I've learned more biology just reading Wikipedia than I did in her waste of a class...

Re:Hay Infusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274637)

WTF does this post have to do with children's microscopes? It's then upped to a "2". Seriously!

Re:Hay Infusion (0)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274757)

Judging by your comment you are lacking some evolutionary development.

Re:Hay Infusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40275553)

So a completely off topic post being upped to a '2' is acceptable to you. My comment was relating to the post, and you reply with a personal attack. Okay...

Re:Hay Infusion (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275909)

Now you prove it again.
TFA is about growing an interest in science in a young kid by exposing it to the wonders a microscope can show.

It's virtually by definition such will involve teaching about evolution, ID is the antagonist to such.

Re:Hay Infusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40276239)

I don't think I prove anything of the sort. The topic is asking for advice on a kid friendly microscope. (I have a soon to be 7 yo and have been considering a microscope for her in the near future.) The 'Hay Infusion' post, while off topic, offered something interesting to do with your newly acquired microscope, and added a fond memory of a high school teacher. The post by Angry* was a rant against his high school teacher, and offered nothing of value to a microscope purchase or interesting things to do with it. It was upped to a '2'. That sir, is what I objected to.

learn how to prepare wet slides (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274489)

I think the biggest thrill from using a microscope would be preparing your own samples. To do this, watch the many available instructional videos on youtube. Most people think you just throw something on there, add a drop of water, slap down the cover slide and mount it for viewing. If you do that, you won't see anything and be disappointed because of trapped air bubbles. You need to gently lower the cover slip from one side and then put a piece of absorbent tissue at the one side to draw the liquid through and remove the air bubbles (I think). Again, they show you how on youtube.

celestron usb scopes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274559)

I have a similar situation to the OP. Bought a celestron lcd digital scope, and the screen was dead. Looking at Amazon reviews, this is unfortunately extremely common with these scopes. They have a lot of potential, but I'd stay away until they fix their quality issues.

Edmund Scientific (3, Informative)

westlake (615356) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274657)

In 2000 Edmund Scientific was purchased by Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories, a western New York based science supply company. Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories is part of a group of companies that provide science supplies to elementary, middle, and high schools as well as colleges and universities.

Edmund Scientific [] sells high quality beginner and student microscopes in all price ranges.

Edmund's prepared slide sets [] have been in their catalogs for decades. You really can't go wrong here.

standardized test pseudo-controversy joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274663)

My advice is to start with the objective lens close to the slide, and then back off, in order to focus. That way you won't accidentally crush the glass slide.

When I was a kid (2)

BlueBat (748360) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274703)

My father got us a real microscope. One that used batteries for the light or we could flip the light and use the mirror. It worked great and we took care of it and it was still in working condition the last time I saw it 10 years or so ago. I am now 45 so it was a quality built one, very sturdy. Children can be taught to respect their equipment, I would say for the first little while you supervise until he understands that he needs to be careful with it. Preparing slides you should probably help him with for a good while as you need a sharp knife or scalpel to do properly unless you are just looking at liquids. But glass slides could be sharp as well.

Re:When I was a kid (1)

pooh666 (624584) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276345)

One thing I can never understand is this idea that if you give a kid anything remotely sharp, they will suddenly start cutting off limbs. I cut myself WAY more often as an adult then when I was 10.

Re:When I was a kid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40276557)

One thing I can never understand is this idea that if you give a kid anything remotely sharp, they will suddenly start cutting off limbs.
I cut myself WAY more often as an adult then when I was 10.

Exactly. You want to be paying two hospital bills?

microscope for who? (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274771)

Sounds like you want a microscope and want him to get the experience of getting to look through Dads cool microscope. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it justifies a better toy since you aren't woried about him playing with it on his own and destroying it. If that were the case, I would say get a $30 toy...

I bought a cheap "celestron" with webcam. The camera mount came apart when I put it together. I returned it tot he store, the second one had a broken camera. It was a $30 toy.

So my wife, seeing my dissapointment, went out and got me a binocular AmScope. She went all out and spent way too much, close to $600 (what exactly do you say to "baby you can't be mad about how much I spent on your birthday gift"?), but, looking now, they have binocular models starting at about $200.

Its a solid microscope, and is officially the best one I have ever gotten to actually touch. The manual is in pretty amusing Engrish, with no copyright or company name. Its clearly meant to go right into a lab in the hands of people who already know how to use it, and the manual just a formality because you have to put something around the technical diagram of how it all fits together.

Get a real microscope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40274897)

Get a real (but cheap) microscope. It's like asking for suggestions for a kid-friendly nail-put-inn-er, but a real hammer is right out, but you want something better than a rock. I'm not going to suggest that you use a wrench with a nice flat side as a compromise, I'm going to suggest you teach the kid how to use a hammer without hitting his thumb.

A link to the same question from a few years ago (1)

PNutts (199112) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274945)

I doubt there have been many technology advances so the advice is probably still current [] , but it will be interesting if there are.

Boom microscope (1)

sglow (465483) | more than 2 years ago | (#40274957)

I have a boom microscope that I use for electronics work which is very popular with my kids for looking at bugs, etc. I got mine from for something like $350.

I also have a biological style microscope which is higher power and lit from below. My kids didn't seem to have as much interest in this. Generally, one cell looks pretty much like another unless you really know what you're looking for.

Get a proper microscope (4, Informative)

dbc (135354) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275061)

Get a decent microscope. "Child friendly" means "not frustrating" -- good light, smooth focus, good light, real optics, and good light. Mechanical stage for bonus points, because little fingers have a hard time moving the slide around in tiny increments.

Stereo vision isn't a big deal, but with a child of 7, I *strongly* suggest getting a "dual head" microscope. This is designed for teaching, the student has one viewing tube, and the other viewing tube can be used by the teacher or the eyepiece of the second tube can be replaced with a standard microscope video camera eyepiece. That way a parent can help with focusing, which is tricky for kids to learn. You can also talk about what they are seeing and give them a guided tour.

Remember that real optics will give a much, much sharper view than any USB microscope or video eyepiece, so adjust expectations accordingly, but we've found that it is a much more fun family activity when the microscope is set up with video in the second tube so that everyone can see and talk about the video while taking turns looking at the eye-poppingly sharp view through the optic path.

We bought our home microscope here: []
they seem to have decent prices on nicer microscopes.

Re:Get a proper microscope (1)

neonfrog (442362) | more than 2 years ago | (#40278247)

For my 7-year-old son, I got a "My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope" from Amazon (same as a low-end one you can get from the hometrainingtools link above). This is a good little microscope, but I didn't break the bank on it. My prudent decision was worth it - he really enjoyed it but only for a while. We still keep it around and pop things into it from time to time, but it isn't his favorite thing (he likes Snap Circuits better). If I had spent a lot more money, it might have felt wasted. If he had loved it, upgrading would not have felt like a burden, and the Duo-Scope would still have been valuable as a field tool. I probably should have gotten more prepared slides. Only came with a few, and I got a few more, but making your own takes time and effort. My kid is very patient for a 7-year-old, but he wasn't really into that part of it. Yours may be different, just sharing my own anecdote. For my kid, the activity almost doesn't matter as much as the fact that we just do science-y stuff together.

to make or to build, that is the question (2)

cherax (1039510) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275199)

American Science and Surplus has a nice collection of used microscopes (and lots of other very cool stuff) at very low prices. Their inventory changes frequently.

Celestron makes a $50 webcam-like (USB) eyepiece camera for telescopes, but it works nicely with microscopes as well. Celestron also sells inexpensive mechanical microscopes.

For thin specimens or slices, you want a compound microscope. For stereo images, you need a stereomicroscope (a.k.a. dissecting microscope). The two have very different designs. The stereomicroscope has two identical objective lenses next to each other, like the two lenses in a stereo digital camera. Unless you need very high magnifications, you can do pretty well with any of the "toy" USB devices that has a built-in webcam and a single magnifier lens (e.g. RadioShack zOrb for ca. $40).

You can build your own compound microscope, which might make a great project for a 7-year-old: []

Finally, you can make a Leeuwenhoek microscope (the original microscope design, from the 1600s) with a single spherical lens of 2-3mm diameter and some ordindary household materials. You can make the lens if you have a torch or Bunsen burner, or get one from Edmund Optics ( Lots of how-to sites on the web, e.g. [] (one design on this site uses a drop of water as the lens).

Sounds like a fun project.

Chap $5 to $10 60x ot 100xon ebay (1)

Hyperhaplo (575219) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275285)

I had the same quandary not too long ago. In the end, I decided to start small and work up. On ebay you can find cheap 60x and 100x pocket scopes which are a good starting point. The resolution and quality sucks, most come with led lights, some come with UV lights, however it is a very good starting point being portable and cheap.

Bresser Biolux NV 20x-1280x Microscope (1)

bundaegi (705619) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275515)

I bought this upright microscope for a 9 year old: Biolux NV 20x-1280x Microscope [] , she loved it!

It has a USB ocular which Linux recognised straight away. Feels nice and solid, with only a tiny bit of hysteresis on the adjustment knob. Nothing a child couldn't cope with.

Optics are surprisingly good quality and the light sources use a little mains adapter, which is included. No batteries required!

There are also a few sample slides included with the microscope, but Bresser sells stained slide kits separately, these might be worth exploring, not sure.

Anyway, check the reviews, I thought it was a terrific microscope for a kid.

What about the Tasco kits? (1)

ZorinLynx (31751) | more than 2 years ago | (#40275813)

Don't they still sell the Tasco microscope kits they had when I was a kid?

I had one; it was a fairly decent microscope, and it came with slides, example specimens, cover slips and other stuff you need to mount and observe your own samples. It came with a manual explaining how to look at random things you might find in nature.

I'll be sad if you can't get these anymore! They were fairly well-made, too; real metal construction, the focus control was nicely damped and greased, etc.

Ahh Microscopes... (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276131)

Dad was doing his master's work at the university of Hawaii when I was 6 or 7. He'd bring us kids into the lab and let us look at drops of water in the microscopes there. A couple years later they got me one of my own. It was actually a pretty nice model for the time, though definitely less beefy than the ones at the university. That was like, 30 years ago. I wonder how the state of the art has advanced since then... I'll just google on "USB Stereo Microsocope" and *SQUEEE*!

I'd make a joke about maxing out the credit card here, but even the most expensive ones I see there are pretty reasonable.The monocular ones are in the double digits for the same magnifications I'm seeing in the binocular ones in the triple digits. I guess it really comes down to what I... I mean you... are looking to spend!

Intel Play QX3 USB Microscope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40276171)

You can find them cheap on ebay. There are a lot of other options, but if you want to just get a first timer hooked on the entire concept, you can't go wrong with one of these things. I got mine years ago and still love it.

Inexpensive scope + webcam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40276335)

Get a decent metal microscope with a single eyepiece. Take an off the shelf USB webcam and a piece of plastic tube to make a fixture to hold the cam over the eyepiece.

These days an led flashlight makes a good illuminator, so you can get a scope with the little mirror under the stage.

If you can get a stage with a positioner. (turn knob, stage moves a little bit). Makes it easier to move just a little when using high magnification.

Bacteria (1)

utkonos (2104836) | more than 2 years ago | (#40276509)

You won't be able to see bacteria without a 400x - 1000x objective.

Try Kosmos Verlag from Germany (1)

n01 (693310) | more than 2 years ago | (#40277725)

EyeClops, TV, 100/200/400x (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40277899)

Try EyeClops. Amazon (or Walmart) has a number of models, from ones that plug into a TV to ones that have a built in screen. Some run at 200x, others go 100x/200x/400x.

For teenagers, go for a real microscope. At age 7, this toy is more appropriate.

Geosafari Tuff Scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40277955)

My son just got a Geosafari Tuff Scope (400x) for his 7th birthday. It is by far one of the best "first" microscopes a child could have. Although I did read some poor reviews on the 600x model, the 400x shows some crisp views and can also be easily transformed in to a field scope.

get a proffesional one from eBay (low priced) (1)

burni2 (1643061) | more than 2 years ago | (#40278103)


there are many proffessional microscopes availible on ebay, and they come at a very reasonable price too,
- USB--Scopes: forget the USB-Trash .. if USB-Scope.price > 30 US$ then don't take it.

You can get laboratory grade equitment there for arround 100 US$, binoculars and microscopes as well.

You are operating it ? -> Try it the other way arround, he will learn more quickly from his OWN mistakes, rather than from yours.

You are just a supervisor(to prevent dead serious injuries of course), adviser and the nurse, the guy with the band aid, when he broke the glass and cut himself, and the one whom later says "told you so". Except, he will remember the pain and will likely not do so again.

If you are near... (1)

Seraphim_72 (622457) | more than 2 years ago | (#40278113)

Minneapolis I would gladly loan you one, plus slides, cover slips and preserved specimens. Is a well cared for college lab scope. A beautiful old Nikon oil immersion. Just reply to this and we can get in contact.

LOMO Analit (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40278117)

Made by Russian company Lomo (that also makes good amateur-grade telescopes): tough, cheap, with decent optics and lighting.
There's also a cheaper version called Yunnat (Young Naturalist), but that's a bit weak.

My 2 cents (1)

KenSeymour (81018) | more than 2 years ago | (#40279313)

I bought one of these for my niece:

I was very impressed with the quality. I would also recommend a prepared slide kit and
a slide making kit.

Why not let him operate it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40279431)

I love that you want to show your kid the world of the very small, however... The kid is 7 years old. Why is he not the one operating the microscope? Seems like parents are afraid to ever let their children fail/break anything. They enter their adult lives thinking the delicate stuff is all magically taken care of, somehow. Case in point, my 20-year-old sister-in-law who's afraid to load a dishwasher because she might break it.

Buy one you'd use (1)

robi5 (1261542) | more than 2 years ago | (#40279449)

Buying a used but well maintained lab microscope gives you solid optics, stability and motivation to use. If it's kept in a visible place, it'll trigger the want to use it.

Here's a GOOD microscope instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40279611)

Revelation III $455 [] is the one I've been using clinically for a good many years. You can get other dealers to price-match. Binocular and with a mechanical stage are the real biggies to make it comfortable to actually use for any length of time.

It's a standard transmission-only microscope, but perfectly serviceable for lots of things, especially cytology.

Use the included blue filter on teh condenser to whiten the halogen bulb.

When you first get it, take the eyepiece out and center the consenser properly using the set screws; as shipped, it's a bit sloppy. Remember that you don't adjust the condenser focus ever once it's set for a given slide thickness, but you do adjust the condenser iris every time you change magnification.

The other important thing is to parfocalize it using the eyepiece focus adjustments. Google will tell you how [] . That's why there are two, and not just one on one eye as on most binoculars.

Extra slides and #1 or #1.5 cover slips are also wanted. A basic trichrome stain (dip-quick, diff-quick, or any number of similar brand names) is enormously useful for cytology and blood examination.

Give a kid something he can use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40279965)

This would be impossible with a cheaper "tasco" or other toy microscope. I did find that the Wolfe student microscopes are surprizingly good, given their low cost (a little over 200.00 the last time I checked). We are talking compound microscopes here. The best specimens for a compound microscope are, in my opinion, aquatic. Mud, sand, pond scum, sludge in bird baths, or plankton. Scrape green scum / slime off of rocks, and mount in a little environmental water.

I"ve read many recommendations to give young kids a magnifier or a stereomicroscope (dissecting microscope), good for viewing bulk specimens, such as insects, spiders, moss, flowers, worms. Magnifiers are excellent, and highly recommended: the higher magnifications (10-20X) are better. For what it's worth, I like to use a 10X microscope eyepiece, inverted---preferably from a microscope that is already uselessly broken. The smaller the diameter of a magnfiying glass, the higher the magnification---the curvature of the glass can be greater. As far as stereomicroscopes, there are some pretty reasonably priced ones, but I have seen no reasonably priced ones that are decent in performance. The cheaper once are pretty vulnerable to water spills, but that may not matter to you.

For either compound or stereomicroscopes, LED lamps, battery powered, are pretty good nowadays, and getting better. It's pretty cool to carry a scope in the car to a picnic or beach outing. And the illumination quality is superior for many purposes.

Get some well slides, as well as small petri dishes if possible.

I'm speaking from a very specific point of view, admitedly. I do recommend highly the Wolfe or Carolina or Wards low cost student microscopes, as surprizingly robust, and of reasonable quality. I have seen 13 year old kids make drawings that are almost publication quailty of small worms and protozoa, and much younger children also enjoy are are able to make a decent job at drawing. Give the kids lots of time, with something interesting.

The last I checked, on Ebay, for 500.00 you could get a really, really nice compound scope, or probably a nice stereomicroscope. The higher the magnification the better, in the latter case.

EyeClops! (1)

KreAture (105311) | more than 2 years ago | (#40280789) []
For kids, this is the right one.
- easy to hold
- no small parts
- looks funny
- usb

Microscope for Children (1)

kenj0418 (230916) | more than 2 years ago | (#40281777)

I think any microscope should work for children. You just need to make sure you slice the children thin enough to fit between the glass slide plates.

Electron Microscope (1)

marciot (598356) | more than 2 years ago | (#40281951)

Don't worry, kids are pretty tech savvy these days. Just get him an electron microscope and he'll be able to figure it out in a jiffy. Plus he'll think you're the best dad ever!

Magiscope (1)

art123 (309756) | more than 2 years ago | (#40282615)

I got my kids the when they were that age. Has a cool light tube to direct light instead of a mirror or light bulb. Has a nice gear-less mechanism for adjusting focus. Uses easy to find threaded objective lenses. Pretty much indestructible..

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