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One of the most common questions we get asked here on Journey to the Microcosmos comes from all of you who are thinking of starting your own microscopic journeys and want a little nudge in the right direction. The question is: what microscope should I use?

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One of the most common   questions we get asked here on Journey to the  Microcosmos comes from all of you who are thinking   of starting your own microscopic journeys and  want a little nudge in the right direction.

The question of course is what microscope should I use? And that’s a big question to answer, actually.

Our own journey through the microcosmos has meant   traveling through the lenses  of a few different microscopes. And that's why— if you’ve ever seen our earlier videos— you know that they look quite a bit different from what we see today. And that is part of the fun of microscopy.

A rotifer under any lens is a thrilling encounter,   it’s just that the nature of the encounter  shifts with the light you shine on it. There are so many different ways to see the world,   and any microscope can be the right one if it's  helping you get started with your exploration. At the same time, there are thing that will make a microscope more and less easy to use, more and less versatile, and we wanted to make it at least a little bit simpler for you to kick off your journey by creating, what we think is  the best starter microscope out there:   the Journey to the Microcosmos Microscope.

You can buy it on our store,  and many of you already have. So, if you’re asking us what microscope  you should use to start your journey,   we have created the microscope we think is the best one. But of course, getting a microscope is just step one.

There’s a lot to learn along the way. For those of you who are looking for a little  guidance on how to use your microscope,   or for those of you who are just curious about  what the microscope looks like in action… well, that’s what we’re all here for today. All of the footage we’re showing for the  rest of the video is footage that James,   our master of microscopes, has recorded  using our Microcosmos microscope.

And if you don’t have our microscope, that’s okay,   most of the tips we’re talking about  today should help you out as you start   your microscopy journey, no matter what  microscope you choose to start with. We’re going to focus on brightfield microscopy,   which means that we'll be looking at samples  that are illuminated entirely by white light. This is the most straightforward  technique in microscopy,   so it’s a great place to start and learn from.

But just because it’s simple  does not mean it isn’t powerful. The intensity of the light can render many of  our organisms transparent, giving us a view of   the world and structures inside their bodies, like  the cells floating around in our tardigrade here. Now there are times when that light might  shine a little too bright and drown out   some other things we might want to see,  so in the future, we might cover some other filters and techniques that will demonstrate other ways to use the microscope.

Now once you have your microscope set up,   the next step is to decide what part  of the microcosmos you want to explore. And the good news is the  microcosmos is just about everywhere. You can start out by collecting some  water from a puddle or a nearby pond,   or maybe even the saliva in your mouth.

Anything that has water is like a little portal  waiting to be opened by your microscope lens. To actually open that portal, you will  need to prepare a slide for your   microscope by transferring a small  amount from your sample to a slide. The first few times, you might be tempted to you know, add a little too much water to the slide, especially because it seems maybe a little improbable that you’ll find something in a little droplet of water.

But microbes are tiny, and so you probably will find something. And too much water will cause the light  to refract, which will make it difficult   to make out all of the spectacular  details lying within their bodies. So you’ll want to try and keep  the sample as thin as possible.

But also, if there is something in there you can actually see with your eyes, you shouldn't make it too thin,   because you might crush those organisms  when you add a coverslip, which might be a somewhat traumatic beginning for your first foray into microscopy. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation,  so here’s an example of a correctly   and incorrectly prepared slide  to help you see the difference. On the right, you see the water is seeping   beyond the borders of the coverslip because there was just too much water there.

The good news of course is that if you  mess up, you can always try again. Our world is a nearly infinite source  of microcosmoses to experiment with,   and every mistake is just a different  path than you originally envisioned. Now once you have your slide on the microscope stage,  the next thing you’ll want to play around with is   how much light is reaching the slide because that  will influence the quality of the image you see.

With too much light, all  the little details like the   ridges along this Pinnularia might get washed out. Now one thing you can do is just dim the light source, but the tool that’s really going to help you adjust the  amount of light is the condenser diaphragm,   which James is helpfully demonstrating  here with the help of his cat. As he pushes it one direction,  more light enters the diaphragm,   allowing us to see more of  the cat on the other side.

Now, instead of a cat, let’s see what happens   when you adjust the condenser  diaphragm on the microscope. Starting out, the amoeba in  our view is a little dark. But when James opens the condenser too fast, the  little details inside of it become washed out,   turning the organism into like a blobby circle  that has few distinguishing features.

But as he closes the condenser again, you can  start to see the scaliness of the shell,   and the fainter bits of amoeba  that peek out from within. You might also find your view interrupted by dust   and impurities coming from the surface  of the condenser or the light source. If that happens, all you have to do is adjust the height of   the condenser by adjusting the knob on the side.

And if you feel like you’re getting  pretty comfortable with the microscope,   there’s a technique you can work on to take your  journey to a different level: oil immersion. We have a whole video explaining oil immersion  and how it helps you see up close and personal   with some of the most spectacular organisms, but  one thing to know is that you need to be careful. Not all objectives can work with oil immersion, and if you use the wrong one, you might actually ruin it.

And this technique relies on  high-magnification objectives,   so you’ll need to be careful  not to move too quickly. If you’re not careful, you can cause  your objective to crash into the slide,   which can break the slide but also more importantly damage the objective. To start, you’ll want to prepare  a slide like normal, you’ll just   need to really make sure the sample is  very thin before you add the coverslip.

Then, take a drop of the oil that came with  your microscope and put it on the coverslip. Using the 100x objective, turn the focus  knob very gently until you see a clear image. Now I think that one of the true joys of the microcosmos is getting to share what you find with other people.

In fact, while watching our hydra here, James got so excited about something that he saw   that we’re going to be making  a whole episode about it soon. And fortunately, unlike the masters of microscopes of past centuries, we have many tools that make it possible to  record our journeys and share them with others. James does this by setting up  a camera on a tripod so that   the camera looks through the microscope eyepieces.

And you can do the same with a camera or even a phone. Our microscope actually comes with a  phone mount to make this a bit easier, and if you record some fun microscopic  footage, we would love to see it! You can share your footage with  us on social media, on twitter and   instagram @journeytomicro or we also have a  submission form now on our store where you   can submit footage to possibly be used in  a future episode of Journey to the Microcosmos.

We love being able to share the wonders of the  microscopic world with you every single week,   and we hope that this video helps  you out at the beginning of your   own personal journey through the  unseen world that surrounds us. If you buy the microscope, it also comes with a series of videos that will help you on your sample collection journeys, setting up the microscope, and using it in a bunch of different ways. Next week, we’re going to be posting another video  about our Microscope, but this time,   I’ll be on camera, doing a full unboxing  video of our Microcosmos Microscope.

You’ll see what the microscope  will look like when it arrives,   and I’ll show you how to set the whole thing up. There's a bunch of names on the screen  right now, and that's the names of some of   our Patreon patrons, the people who allow us  to do the thing that we are doing right now,   sharing something truly remarkable about our  universe, not just the fact that we are surrounded   by this invisible world that for the vast majority  of human history, was entirely unknown to us,   but also advocating for this as an activity, as  a journey that more people can participate in. So thank you so much to  all of our Patreon patrons.

If you want to see more from our  Master of Microscopes, James Weiss,   you can check out Jam and Germs on Instagram. And if you want to see more from us, there's  always a subscribe button somewhere nearby.