The stereo microscope is to science fair projects what Jell-o is to beginning cooks; a foolproof project that will actually do what it is expected to do. Stereo microscopes have been around forever, their design unaffected by the advent of 20th-century wonders like electron and digital microscopes.

Composite or stereoscopic?

No matter how many bells and whistles any of them have added, there are two basic types of microscope: compound and stereoscopic. The difference between them is that a compound microscope allows the user to use only one eye when viewing a specimen. The stereo microscope, on the other hand, allows the viewer the use of both eyes. What does this mean?

It means that, because the human optical system cannot distinguish depths unless both eyes are viewing an object, a stereo microscope will provide a three-dimensional view of a specimen that is totally lacking in sight through a compound microscope. A compound microscope will create a flat view of the surface of a sample; To view solid objects in three dimensions, most professional researchers prefer the stereo microscope.

easy to build

The phrase “stereoscopic microscope” alone may be enough to intimidate the less scientifically inclined, but the truth is that elementary school kids can build a stereomicroscope, and hundreds of thousands of them have. The necessary elements for a stereoscopic microscope are lenses with which to condense and maneuver the light so that it results in magnification; prisms; and binoculars. They don’t have to be expensive binoculars, and many stereo microscopes have been built for less than $30.

A stereo microscope, while providing depth of view, does not have as strong a magnifying ability as a compound microscope. But that’s not entirely a bad thing, because its weaker boost makes it much easier to use. The object will not appear so large that only a small section is visible at a time.

Stereo microscopes are ideal for viewing coins and are available to coin collectors in binocular and trinocular models. The trinocular model not only has twin eyepieces; it had a photo port so images of the coins could be recorded. Coin collectors love the stereo microscope because it allows them to detect any surface flaws on a coin, read faint dates and mintmarks, and see the effects of their coin cleaning efforts.

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