Compound Microscope:

There are many ways of using your compound microscope, whether it’s to study chemistry or life science, or have fun exploring things that can be found around the house!  Here are just some of the many simple objects that look impressive when viewed with high-power magnification.

Getting Started

In order for a compound microscope to work, light must be able to pass through the object you’re viewing.  The best way to ensure this is by making a slide.  You can make simple homemade slides using Scotch tape, and the materials listed below.  Some objects, such as a dollar bill, can be viewed by placing directly onto the stage, and holding in place using stage clips.  Experiment for yourself to see how the materials below can be viewed with your compound microscope.

  • Sugar and salt crystals
  • Sand and soil
  • Fibers – acrylic yarn, wool, linen
  • Cloth – cotton, silk
  • Newspaper or other printed material
  • Dollar bill

Making Prepared Slides

A wet mount slide is the most common method of making a prepared slide.  It can be done using a few inexpensive items, and is useful for viewing everything from food substances to flower petals.

What You Need:

What You Do:


  1. If the object you are viewing under the microscope is thick, you will need a sharp knife or razor blade to cut off a thin section (the thinner the slice, the easier it will be to view with your microscope).
  2. Place a drop of water in the center of the plain glass slide, using an eyedropper, or the clean tip of your finger.  The drop of water should be bigger than your chosen object.
  3. Carefully set the specimen in the water drop.  You may find a pair of tweezers helpful for this step.
  4. Take a cover slip and hold it at an angle to the slide so that one edge of it touches the water drop on the surface of the slide.  Then, being careful not to move the specimen around, lower the cover slip without trapping any air bubbles beneath it.
  5. The water should form a seal around the object you want to view. Use the corner of a paper towel to blot up any excess water at the edges of the cover slip.
  6. To view the slide, begin with the lowest-power objective, then switch to a higher power objective to see more detail.
  7. If your slide is drying out too quickly, try putting a seal around the cover slip using petroleum jelly and a toothpick. The slide will not be permanent, but it will last longer.

This method can also be used with liquid specimens, using a concave slide.  Put a few drops of liquid in the concavity, and add water to thin it out if necessary.

A dry mount slide can be prepared in a very similar way to wet mounts, except without the water.  Place the object in the middle of the slide, and holding the cover slip at an angle, carefully set it on top.

Slide Ideas: Plants and Animals

When studying living things, or something that was living, a wet mount slide is generally used, so the object stays fresh, but a dry mount slide is useful for viewing objects like feathers or fur.

  • Cork
  • Balsa wood or bark
  • Celery stalk (plant stem)
  • Carrot (plant root)
  • Water from week-old floral bouquet
  • Flower petal
  • Leaf
  • Mushroom spores
  • Spider web – since spider webs are so delicate, it would be a good idea to use slide mounting fluid to attach the spider web to a plain glass slide.  Clear nail polish could also be used.  Paint a thin layer of the mounting fluid in the center of the slide, then carefully place the center of a spider web on the slide and put a cover slip on top. Wipe away any extra spider web strands, and the slide is ready to view!
  • Insect wing or leg
  • Butterfly or moth scales – gently press one wing of your specimen onto a glass slide to remove tiny scales, then place a cover slip on top.
  • Hair or fur
  • Feathers

Slide Ideas: Human Body

  • Cheek cells
  • Hair – using the dry mount method, try looking at all sorts of hairs, even from pets.  To examine the texture of hair, try using gelatin or clear nail polish.  Spread a thin layer in the center of a slide.  Before it has set up completely, place a hair on top, then remove it when the gelatin or nail polish is set.
  • Plaque – gently scrape off a sample of plaque buildup from your teeth using a toothpick, then place it on a slide and add a drop of water.

Slide Ideas: Household Items

  • Paper pulp – to see the pulp that makes up paper, put water and paper scraps in a blender, then add the pulpy substance and a few drops of water to make a wet mount slide.
  • Soap film – experiment with different liquid and bar soaps and water.
  • Water-soluble paint (acrylic, interior house paint, watercolor) – try making two separate slides – one with paint and water, the other by painting a thin layer directly onto the slide, and allowing it to dry before viewing it under a microscope.

Slide Ideas: Chemicals and Food Substances

You might be amazed at what a variety of shapes and color you can find by looking at chemicals or food under the microscope! All of these substances can be made into wet mount slides, but some of the chemicals also look interesting as dry mount slides.

Stereo Microscope:

If you are using a stereo or dissecting microscope, place the specimen directly underneath the eyepiece.  Start by using the lowest objective first, and gradually increase the magnification level.  For small, flat objects, such as a dollar bill, use the stage clips to keep it in place.  Move the clips to the side when examining larger, more three-dimensional objects.

  • Dollar bill
  • Newspaper or other printed material
  • Postage stamps
  • Fly, ant, or other small insect
  • Butterfly or moth
  • Flower petal
  • Feathers
  • Granite, or other rock containing crystals


Looking for fun, hands-on gift ideas? Check out our gift center:

More Info:

  • Need a microscope? Check out our affordable microscopes!