Through the microscope

Archive for the ‘Microscopy – all posts’ Category

Spider under the stereo microscope

My friend Richard is really into spiders. He loves them, so when I said I might look at one under the microscope he immediately checked that I was not going to harm any. He even went so far as to send me a deceased spider in the post, a lovely Tegenaria. It’s a little dehydrated but it is still very spidery and a fascinating subject. He sent me another one but I had a job interview and haven’t had time to photograph it yet. Such a shame because it’s a real beauty. I should be able to get it done on Monday.

Tegenaria is a common house spider. Several pictures were taken under a stereo microscope using incident lighting and the pictures were stacked using Helicon focus software.  I’m a big fan of Helicon because it’s idiot proof. The pedipalps are shown in the second and third picture. Pedipalps, or palps as they are often called, are the sex organs which the male spiders use to transfer seminal fluid to the females during mating. Mating is a dangerous business for male spiders because the females have a tendency to consume their mates.

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.

By Mary Howitt 1829

Spider eyes

Spider eyes

Spider palp

Spider palp

Underside of spider palp

Underside of spider palp

The match box microscope

This is “the match box microscope” so called because inside the tube is a brass matchbox instead of a stop. My friend thinks that the original stop was lost and was replaced by the match box. The match box itself is quite interesting, these “safety boxes” were brass and had a small hole in the top in which to place a lit match. The match would burn for about 30 seconds- just enough time to hop into bed, and considered safer than taking a candle to bed in an age when beds tended to have curtains around them to keep out the draughts.

Below is a picture of the matchbox taken down the tube of the microscope followed by a series of picures showing the fine focus, paintwork and other features. The microscope was probably made by converting a binocular microscope into a monocular. You can tell it is an early microscope (1840 ish) by the triangular rack and pinion.

The stand is an iron Lister stand, it’s quite badly painted which is peculiar, people tended not to do shoddy paint jobs in 1840…


Prince Albert’s Safety Box. 100 Patent Vestalights


Base of Lister stand


Aperture ring on underside of stage


Tube and coarse focus knobs


Fine focus mechanism


Mirror and base


Triangular shaped rack and slot in objective tube (no screw in objectives)


Fine focus mechanism, tube and simple mechanical stage which slides up and down

A rotifer who can’t eat her food

This little rotifer was very amusing to watch. She seems to be struggling to cope with the Trachelomonas (green whizzy blobs). I left the original audio on, for some reason it amuses me to hear myself talking to a rotifer. Usually I put music on my videos; if you can’t stand to hear my mutterings you can always turn the sound down.

It was taken on the Nikon S L Ke at 400X with phase contrast.

Nanoscopy pioneers win Chemistry Nobel : Nature News Blog

The sexiest thing ever.


Nanoscopy pioneers win Chemistry Nobel : Nature News Blog.

Cyclops in the local pond

flea0151A little cyclops (male) 200x with rheinberg illumination. flea0138 flea0144 flea0147

Pond life – worm

Here’s a little worm I found in some pond water. I started out in phase contrast and finished up in brightfield. I was using the Nikon S L-ke

Lovely little worm isn’t he?

Baker Series IV fine focus reconstruction

Hello chaps,

The Baker series IV is now returned to its former glory, almost. The fine focus was broken because a small pin had sheared off. To fix it you will need a lathe, or a friend with a lathe, patience, grease and some small tools.

First, remove the old broken pin. It’s a tight fit so you may have to bash it out with a hammer. Next, ask your friend, who has a watchmaker’s lathe, to make you a new pin for the fine focus mechanism.

Broken Baker pin

Broken Baker pin

Next, insert the new pin where the old pin used to be, It can be seen just to the right of the screw head in the black, central region.


Hang the widget on the pin and grease the tracks for the ball bearings. Stick the ball bearings in position.


Widget hanging on pin, ball bearings

Now you must make sure that the notch in the widget will take the little square nubble on its opposite piece (I hope you’re enjoying the technical terms). This is very important, if the nubble isn’t sitting on the notch then the fine focus will not work, the fine focus relies on pressure from the stage carrier as well as the action of the spring at the bottom to return.


Attempt to put the two pieces together. You will find that half of the ballbearings pop out and your hands will be covered with grease (and cat hair if you live in our house). Make sure the cat hair doesn’t end up inside the fine focus mechanism, it won’t do it any good.  If your Baker Series IV has a cage to keep the ball bearings contained and aligned sing “Hallelujah!” because it will all be much easier to put back together.


If your ball bearings pop out, here’s a video of my wonderful husband showing you how to pop them back in.

Now you can put the spring back, put on the top and bottom plates and reassemble the microscope.

The next picture shows the base plate which contains the spring and allows the fine focus mechanism to return.

And here she is, the fixed microscope. I’m still not completely happy with the paint work but at least she works now.


Vickers M4000 microscope cosy

Another day, another microscope dust cover. This one is for a Vickers M4000 universal microscope.  Do you like the Vickers logo? It took me minutes to do that!

Instead of microfibre cloth I have used heavy polyester this time around, The kind used to make suits and trousers, it is fairly impermeable to dirt and much easier to work with than microfibre towels. The M4000 is very large so my sewing machine would probably have blown up if I had used microfibre towels. 

I still have several more dust covers to make but I want to play with my very wonderful M4000 right now.

M4000 dust cover

M4000 dust cover

Kim Chi’s fleas

We have a new kitten! We weren’t expecting to get a new kitten just yet but a friend called saying a kitten needed a home. Who can resist?

Our cat, Mushroom died last year so we had a vacancy. We like to be a two cat household. Kim Chi the kitten is very keen to play with Onion our ginger male although Onion is a bit frightened of her at the moment.

Kim Chi brought some house guests with her – fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) I thought I’d take some photos of a flea before they are exterminated. Quite interesting really. What looks like a large blood vessel is actually the trachea. Fleas breathe through spiracles (little holes in their bodies) and the trachea helps move the air around their nasty parasitic bodies.

I shall try and find some larvae tomorrow.

Pictures were taken on a Vickers M4000 at 40X and 80X magnification.

Click to enlarge.


Centring a lomo or meopta condenser

Scenario: You’re  trying to set up Kohler illumination on an old Lomo biolam or  Meopta microscope which has no centring mechanism on the condenser. You have the lamp centred and the field diaphragm pretty well centred and you’re ready to get the condenser centred. You pop your phase telescope in the eye tube, you look through it and horror of horrors you see something like this!

iris aperture squiffy


Your iris aperture (condenser aperture) is way off centre. When you enlarge the aperture part of it disappears out of view. Kohler is impossible. You’ve wiggled everything that can be wiggled and you’re about to start smacking things with a hammer in frustration. STOP! There is a solution and no microscopes have to be hit with anything.

Step 1) Remove the condenser and the stage – this shouldn’t be a problem, they come off fairly easily, especially if you remove the mirror so you can get a screw driver in more easily.


Removing Lomo stage

Removing Lomo stage

Step 2) Observe the condenser carrier. You will see a knurled locking screw and three tiny grub screws  – one at the front and two at the back on either side. These tiny grub screws are your centring mechanism but don’t bother trying to alter them yet, nothing will happen until you have taken off the locking ring.

Locking ring

Locking ring


Step 3)  Unscrew the locking ring -I used pointy ended pliers to get it started. Now you can  adjust the grub screws. Pop the condenser back while you do the adjustment. Rack the condenser almost completely up and look through the phase telescope using a low power objective. Make sure the objective is down near where the stage should be. It’s no good leaving it 20 cms up in the air.  It doesn’t matter that you have no stage and no slide to view, you’re only looking at the condenser aperture through a phase telescope.

Approximate position of grub screws shown by pink arrows

Locking ring removed. Approximate position of grub screws shown by pink arrows.


Step 4)  Adjust the grub screws until you see something resembling this through the phase telescope.

iris aperture central


Step 5)  Cry “Hallelujah!” then throw the locking ring in the bin. Well, put it somewhere safe, I have found everything to be perfectly secure without it and it’s much easier to adjust without it there.

Step 6) Put the stage back on. Good luck with that, it’s fiddly. Put the mirror back on, put on anything else you removed.

Now you can set up Kohler in the usual way.

NB. you may have to adjust the head  if that is out of whack rather than the condenser. The head has a dove tail slider which is obvious and easy to adjust. You have probably wiggled it several times during your attempts to get the condenser centred.




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