Microscopes, microscopes, microscopes! We enjoy everything about them and have concocted an article detailing many of the lesser-known applications of microscope use. Find out more below!
Microscope Applications in the Medical Field
Microscope use in surgery is essential for modern-day practices. These technological instruments provide much-needed detail and numerous technological advances over what had long been a magnifying glass. (Imagine open heart surgery without state-of-the-art scopes!) The use of microscopes during surgery is absolutely crucial to surgical success due to the granular levels of magnification and depth perception that high-precision optics provide, coupled with superior ergonomics.
Doctors are using microsurgery for things that may have once been thought impossible. Using very fine instruments and high-magnification microscopes, surgeons can disconnect and reattach delicate tissues, like nerves and blood vessels, opening the door to many possibilities. For example, microsurgery can be used to reattach fingers and thumbs that would have once had to have been amputated. Limbs can be repaired after a severe injury or wound infection, and muscles can be transplanted so that people can regain the function of an arm, leg, or hand. Microsurgery is also commonly used for breast reconstruction after cancer. The surgeon takes tissue from other body parts and uses it to recreate the breast.
Perhaps one of the most mind-blowing uses of microsurgery is in face transplantation. This procedure can be life-changing for people who have experienced severe burns, animal attacks, or traumas to their face. While still a new approach, it’s a promising field only possible thanks to microscopic surgery.
You can’t search for blood diseases without using a super-precise microscope with super-precise optics and live cell imaging. Microscopes can observe in vivo cellular processes, including bacterial and viral attacks on cells and how cells fight back. High-powered, high-resolution microscopes can also make single molecules visible that we could not see under lower magnification. These advancements were instrumental during the pandemic when microscopes were indispensable in identifying the disease, the virus’ proteins, overall structure, and mechanism of action – and how vaccines counteracted the viral infiltration.
Microscopes are used in a wide range of ways in diagnostics. Scientists use blood smears to look at the shape and number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets to determine if there are any irregularities. Looking at sputum samples under a microscope can determine the source of respiratory infections and whether fungi, bacteria, or viruses caused them.
Microscopy has been essential to cancer research and has contributed immensely to many new treatments. Researchers can carefully examine antibodies and antigens, which essentially work as a lock and key, and develop ways to interrupt the process and enhance the body’s natural response for better outcomes.
Microscope Applications in Drug Development and Testing
As you might guess, due to how precise and effective microscopes are at detecting cellular structure, they’re also highly effective in developing new pharmaceuticals. Microscopes can help researchers zero in on chemical compounds’ structures and interactions with sample cells from animals in research settings. Say you have a new drug being developed to counteract certain stages of Alzheimer’s. Researchers and scientists sometimes use mice to see how they respond to tests of some nature, and they can study brain tissue to see how it interacts with new chemicals.
When scientists, doctors, and nurses are in school, microscopes are a part of their daily education. Learning about body cells and tissues from a book or slide presentation is one thing, but looking at real biological samples under a microscope is another. This kind of study also makes them better practitioners because it helps them better understand how medicine works. For example, examining bacterial cells under a microscope helps people entering the medical field understand how and why antibiotics work.
Art and Conservation Microscope Applications
Indeed, microscopes also play a crucial role in studying works of art and other artifacts of historical significance. Often, art historians and researchers use specific microscopes (often stereo or dissection microscopes) to investigate the authenticity of a given artifact. The ramifications of such a study could have implications for monetary value.
The test of authenticity is a multi-tiered one. In determining an object’s authenticity, researchers look at three key factors:
- Scientific analysis
When it comes to style, researchers use well-known artistic periods and artists’ styles as base platforms on which to verify authenticity. They consult experts on a particular artist’s work to inform and influence their findings.
Regarding provenance, researchers want to know if the object in question has a reasonable, well-documented history. Basically, provenance is where it came from and whether it is a reputable source verifiable by evidence. Examples include high-stakes auctions, a bill of sale from a gallery, or various publications.
Researchers also use pigment and dye analyses to recognize the authenticity of a painting to determine the earliest possible date of its creation.
Lastly, we have scientific analysis. Researchers use deductive logic here, for no matter how closely a work resembles similar proven works by a particular artist, there are historical features that could completely nullify that possibility, like the use of materials that didn’t exist in the artist’s lifetime or period. Con artists often use modern materials to attempt to duplicate a valuable historical work. They should never get away with this!
Other artifacts that historians study include textiles, terra cotta, sculptures, pastels, and drawings. It’s a very exciting field!
Another exciting way microscopes are used in the art world is in restoration. Skilled artisans can repair torn canvases using a microscope by painstakingly reattaching tears or seamlessly adding patches and other materials as needed. Pieces can be cleaned effectively and delicately, and retouches can be done with the greatest possible precision. Updates and repairs done under a microscope may not be visible to the human eye.
Forensic Science Microscope Applications
Evidence, evidence, evidence. Such is the basic substrate of effective forensic science. What is the way to procure such evidence? Through physical objects.
According to Cambridge University Press, microscopes can provide invaluable physical evidence that links a criminal to a crime. Some common examples would be DNA analysis, paint from an incident of a hit-and-run, fingerprint identification, or bullet analysis. Such evidence provides inarguable data – facts – that can help prosecutors or defenders prove a case.
Microscopes are also helpful in forensic pathology, the science of determining how someone died. In cases where law enforcement suspects foul play, forensic scientists can check for trace evidence to find the cause of death. This could include examining the blood for signs of infection or examining wounds for causes and other trace evidence.
Other Surprising Applications
The buck doesn’t stop there, however. Below are some fascinating uses of microscopes that you wouldn’t generally think of!
Food Industry QC (Quality Control)
Food is a physical and chemical substance that can be studied. The primary uses? Detection of toxins like bacteria and thus the prevention, or proof, of foodborne illness.
The food industry uses different microscopes for different purposes.
SEMs, for instance (scanning electron microscopes), can regulate moisture and pressure levels because most foods have primary constituents of water and fat.
On the other hand, stereo microscopes are typically used to detect toxins and bacteria that aren’t native to the food in question.
And here’s one you may not have heard of: thermal microscopy in studying a large spectrum of food’s different physical and chemical components.
Lastly, you have fluorescence microscopes to hone in on specific bacteria, such as Staph, salmonella, and E. coli.
Laser microscopes rule this industry. And why? To illuminate samples and detect the laser signal that those samples reflect. A confocal microscope also uses spatial filtering to separate out foreign particles from the clarity of the original sample.
Environmental Studies and Pollution Analysis
Our last field of study, environmental science, also uses microscopes. Researchers within this highly interdisciplinary field use a variety of microscopes to study many different organisms – large or small – to pieces of sediment and beyond.
1. How can microscopes be used in the food industry?
Microscope use in the food industry generally involves detecting foreign particles, usually ones that could lead to foodborne illness. For example, when you look at bacteria under a microscope, you can determine the type of bacteria based on the shape of the cells and how they cluster together. Identifying these things before food is distributed to the general population can prevent devastating levels of illness and may lead to product recalls preventing more people from getting sick.
2. What is the role of microscopy in semiconductor manufacturing?
Laser microscopes are the go-to type of scope in semiconductor manufacturing, which use lasers to illuminate samples. In this type of work, even the smallest defects or foreign particles can cause significant performance issues, leading to costly delays and errors.
3. Can microscopes be used for environmental monitoring and analysis?
Yes, atomic force microscopes can zero in on particles in any given environment, such as air or water. Environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) also delivers deeper insights, allowing for the introduction of different variables, including temperature cycling, hydration, and introducing gas to assess reactions in different environments. These capabilities open up possibilities for future research as scientists can make active changes during experimentation.
4. What other unconventional microscope applications exist?
Forensic science and art conservation are two other uses of microscopes in unconventional ways. As technology advances, though, there will surely be many more amazing ways to use microscopes in the future.