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Historians credit the invention of the compound microscope to the Dutch spectacle maker, Zacharias Janssen, around the year 1590.   The compound microscope uses lenses and light to enlarge the image and is also called an optical or light microscope (vs./ an electron microscope).  The simplest optical microscope is the magnifying glass and is good to about ten times (10X) magnification.  The compound microscope has two systems of lenses for greater magnification, 1) the ocular, or eyepiece lens that one looks into and 2) the objective lens, or the lens closest to the object. 

Basic parts of the microscope:

Eyepiece Lens:  the lens at the top that you look through.  They are usually 10X or 15X power. 

Tube:  Connects the eyepiece to the objective lenses

Arm:  Supports the tube and connects it to the base

Base:  The bottom of the microscope, used for support

Illuminator:  A steady light source used in place of a mirror.  If your microscope has a mirror, it is used to reflect light from an external light source up through the bottom of the stage.

Stage:  The flat platform where you place your slides.  Stage clips hold the slides in place.  If your microscope has a mechanical stage, you will be able to move the slide around by turning two knobs.  One moves it left and right, the other moves it up and down.

Revolving Nosepiece or Turret:  This is the part that holds two or more objective lenses and can be rotated to easily change power.

Objective Lenses:  Usually you will find 3 or 4 objective lenses on a microscope.  They almost always consist of 4X, 10X, 40X and 100X powers.  When coupled with a 10X (most common) eyepiece lens, we get total magnifications of 40X (4X times 10X), 100X , 400X and 1000X.  To have good resolution at 1000X, you will need a relatively sophisticated microscope with an Abbe condenser.  

Rack Stop:  This is an adjustment that determines how close the objective lens can get to the slide.  It is set at the factory and keeps students from cranking the high power objective lens down into the slide and breaking things.  You would only need to adjust this if you were using very thin slides and you weren't able to focus on the specimen at high power. 

Condenser Lens:  The purpose of the condenser lens is to focus the light onto the specimen.  Condenser lenses are most useful at the highest powers (400X and above).  Microscopes with in stage condenser lenses render a sharper image than those with no lens (at 400X).  I

Diaphragm or Iris:  Many microscopes have a rotating disk under the stage.  This diaphragm has different sized holes and is used to vary the intensity and size of the cone of light that is projected upward into the slide.  There is no set rule regarding which setting to use for a particular power.   Rather, the setting is a function of the transparency of the specimen, the degree of contrast you desire and the particular objective lens in use.