Please help me help my dad buy me a microscope.
October 9, 2007 10:45 PM   Subscribe

My absolutely non-techie dad has just, in a fit of extreme awesomeness, offered to buy me a compound microscope. What now?

I'm in the process of re-tooling my educational background for wet science, after a bachelor's in art history and a pack of years in law, and I'm just now starting to take upper division biology classes. I know I don't really -need- a microscope at this point in my life, but it sure would be nifty.

My ideal microscope would be at least somewhat portable, something I could bring to these sorts of events. It would also be trinocular, though that's not a requirement.

I'd like this microscope to be something that would serve me well in grad school, should I choose to pursue microbiology, or plant physiology, or something in a similar vein. I'd also like for it to be something I could use to show friends and family the wonders of tardigrades, hydras, volvox (volvoxen?) and the like.

How much microscope do I need? How much microscope is too much? What should I be looking for? What should I avoid? Are there any particular shops or vendors you'd recommend?

We can afford to spend around $750.00 on this. I can go a bit higher if need be, but I really don't want to go over a grand.

Thanks all!
posted by palmcorder_yajna to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Talk to your professors. Professors working with grant money, and with specific needs, probably know something about this. Also, tardigrades are cool! And can I recomend looking for one with available adapters for photography? Having your own micrographs to display is cool.
posted by agentofselection at 12:47 AM on October 10, 2007

If you're going to do this, don't go cheap. To be useful in your studies, it would have to be a very good microscope that will last for some years.

Great Scopes, for example, has some equipment in your price range that might be enough for you (and they have a more heavy-duty line that would cost you more). Watch the costs of accessories -- things add up quickly from the base price.

But if your desire to have your own microscope is more on the nifty side than the necessary, maybe your very generous dad's money could be put to things more necessary than nifty. (Art history, then law, then biology, then... ?)
posted by pracowity at 2:41 AM on October 10, 2007

Good microscopes show up second hand on ebay. Although I expect some of them at least are thieved from university.
That said, my kids are using gear better than they have at their school for $50.
posted by bystander at 3:28 AM on October 10, 2007

If you go looking for used: Zeiss and Leica make great scopes. Nikon and Olympus aren't bad either, but among the older ones I have used I have been happiest with the Zeiss or Leica. Lots of objectives, Kohler correction, all that good stuff. Make sure it has an adjustable condensor, and the proper filters for viewing what you wish to see.

Do look for evidence of previous ownership - property tags especially - if you buy online used. An older refurbished scope can last you years if you get a good one, especially if you are careful with it.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:00 AM on October 10, 2007

You could try posting to the MSA's listserver...

MSA=microscopy society of america
posted by ian1977 at 6:41 AM on October 10, 2007

If you get a multi-nocular, consider a stereo one. These provide observations in vivid 3D! Bugs and stuff are great, your average person is really amazed by them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:37 AM on October 10, 2007

I doesn't seem like you would need to use this microscope in grad school. Most good colleges/universities have labs with top of the line microscopes. Even my teeny liberal arts college had a brand new SEM that we were free to use with almost any specimen we could find!
posted by kepano at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2007

I also don't think you'll be using this scope much in grad school. I run a core microscopy facility and most of the scopes we have run around 100 grand or more. Even cheap research stereo scopes are around $5K.

I would look for a good used scope - I think you'll get better value that way. If you can find anything from the big 4 (Zeiss, Nikon, Leica, Olympus) you'll do well if it's in good condition. LOMO reportedly makes good scopes for cheap as well, though I have no experience with them (apparently they carted off the Zeiss factory at Jena at the end of WWII).
posted by pombe at 9:50 AM on October 10, 2007

I'm a little puzzled by this. Any place you work in academia or industry will provide the lab equipment you need. Nobody ever buys their own instruments.

If you just want to own a microscope because they're neat and beautiful and cool (which they are), that's fine. But I don't think it would be particularly valuable in advancing your career.
posted by Quietgal at 11:36 AM on October 10, 2007

I have a great Nikon I used to examine path slides in med school. It cost around your price range, has a built in light, great optical quality, and best of all, it came in an indestructible plastic carrying case with a handle. I can't see why you wouldn't want to buy this microscope for your purposes. Although you might want to look into getting a microscope with a digital camera attachment, either for hooking into your computer or using standalone.

Agree that you'll never need to own one of these for your career; the good Zeiss microscope that you'll need to do confocal darkfield immunofluorescence for publication will start at $100K and go up from there.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:04 PM on October 10, 2007

It occurs to me that if someone offered to buy me something for a career in biology or biochcem, I'd probably ask for a set of pipetmen instead, never lend them, and keep them religiously RNAase free.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:05 PM on October 10, 2007

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