Electron or Compound Microscope?

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12166

There is an entire world at our fingertips that most of us never get to see -- a microscopic universe. Old and new technology combine to introduce us to that world, depending on what we need to see!


Scientific Method

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What differences do you notice between the two images above?
  • What are they?
  • Where would you find them?

In the previous Related Lesson, found in the right-hand sidebar, you learned about the difference between scanning and transmission electron microscopes.

Remember that scanning electron microscopes only take images of the surface of samples, while transmission electron microscopes pass electrons through the specimen.

Electron microscopes can provide high-resolution images at high magnification levels. These are often used when compound light microscopes cannot provide an effective image. Compound light microscopes pass light through samples but are limited in the magnification potential.

Compare the images from the opening section again.

microscopic images

The first image is taken with an electron microscope — notice how much detail is visible. The second image was taken using a compound light microscope.

Both types have value to scientists, but they are used for different purposes.

  • What key differences do you notice in the two images?
  • Are there similarities?
  • Which one do you think gives the most detail?

Compound light and electron microscopes visualize different samples and specimens. One of the reasons the images are different is because they create the image differently.

Examine some major differences between compound light and electron microscopes. On a sheet of paper, copy down the following comparison chart.

Characteristic Compound Light Microscope Electron Microscope
  • How are the images created?
  • What is the magnification limit?
  • What steps must be taken to prepare the sample?
  • What is the impact on natural color?
  • How big are they?
  • How expensive are they?


Here are some resources to help you complete the chart.

As you can see, each type of microscope has advantages and limitations.

Now, see if you can identify some images in the Got It? section.

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