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published by the Imaging Technology Group
supported by the NASA and the National Science Foundation
This animated tutorial illustrates the basics of light microscopy. It opens with a brief introduction to light refraction and interference. Next, the tutorial explores light microscope anatomy and contrast methods -- including stain, darkfield, and polarized contrast. Finally, it discusses the field of fluorescent light microscopy.

This resource is part of the Virtual Microscope project, which provides cost-free simulated scientific instrumentation for students and researchers worldwide as part of NASA's Virtual Laboratory initiative.  See Related Materials for links to additional animated tutorials on Atomic Force Microscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
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Education Practices
- Technology
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electromagnetic Radiation
= Electromagnetic Spectrum
General Physics
- Equipment
= Electronic Equipment
- Color
- Geometrical Optics
= Optical Instruments
= Refraction - Flat Surfaces
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Upper Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Tutorial
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
= Movie/Animation
= Sound
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- application/flash
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© 2007 Imaging Technology Group
fluorescent microscope, instrumentation, light microscope, microscope anatomy, microscope tutorial, microscopy, microscopy tutorial
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Metadata instance created February 11, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
February 11, 2013 by Caroline Hall
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AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1C. The Scientific Enterprise
  • 6-8: 1C/M6. Computers have become invaluable in science, mathematics, and technology because they speed up and extend people's ability to collect, store, compile, and analyze data; prepare research reports; and share data and ideas with investigators all over the world.

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 6-8: 3A/M2. Technology is essential to science for such purposes as access to outer space and other remote locations, sample collection and treatment, measurement, data collection and storage, computation, and communication of information.

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 6-8: 4D/M9. Materials vary in how they respond to electric currents, magnetic forces, and visible light or other electromagnetic waves.
4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M2. Something can be "seen" when light waves emitted or reflected by it enter the eye—just as something can be "heard" when sound waves from it enter the ear.
  • 6-8: 4F/M5. Human eyes respond to only a narrow range of wavelengths of electromagnetic waves-visible light. Differences of wavelength within that range are perceived as differences of color.
  • 6-8: 4F/M6. Light acts like a wave in many ways. And waves can explain how light behaves.
  • 6-8: 4F/M7. Wave behavior can be described in terms of how fast the disturbance spreads, and in terms of the distance between successive peaks of the disturbance (the wavelength).

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 9-12: 8B/H4. Increased knowledge of the properties of particular molecular structures helps in the design and synthesis of new materials for special purposes.
  • 9-12: 8B/H6. Groups of atoms and molecules can form structures that can be measured in billionths of a meter. The properties of structures at this scale (known as the nanoscale) and materials composed of such structures, can be very different than the properties at the macroscopic scale because of the increase in the ratio of surface area to volume and changes in the relative strengths of different forces at different scales. Increased knowledge of the properties of materials at the nanoscale provides a basis for the development of new materials and new uses of existing materials.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
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AIP Format
(Imaging Technology Group, Urbana, 2007), WWW Document, (
Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics (Imaging Technology Group, Urbana, 2007), <>.
APA Format
Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics. (2007). Retrieved May 30, 2024, from Imaging Technology Group:
Chicago Format
NASA, and National Science Foundation. Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics. Urbana: Imaging Technology Group, 2007. (accessed 30 May 2024).
MLA Format
Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics. Urbana: Imaging Technology Group, 2007. NASA, and National Science Foundation. 30 May 2024 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics}, Publisher = {Imaging Technology Group}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {30 May 2024}, Year = {2007} }
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%T Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics %D 2007 %I Imaging Technology Group %C Urbana %U %O application/flash

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%0 Electronic Source %D 2007 %T Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics %I Imaging Technology Group %V 2024 %N 30 May 2024 %9 application/flash %U

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

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Virtual Microscope: Light Microscopy Basics:

Is Part Of Virtual Microscope

Link to the main website of Virtual Microscope, which includes instructions for downloading the software for sharing datasets produced by the group's scanning and probing microscopes.

relation by Caroline Hall
Accompanies Virtual Microscope: Scanning Electron Microscopy Basics

A link to an animated tutorial on the structure and function of a Scanning Electron Microscope. Appropriate for high school and undergraduate education.

relation by Caroline Hall
Accompanies Virtual Microscope: Scanning Probe Microscopy Basics

An animated tutorial that describes how scanning probe microscopes work to "read" the surface of nanoscale samples and provide image data.

relation by Caroline Hall

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