what is dark field microscopy

what is dark field microscopy

Darkfield Microscopy-Brightfield microscopy uses light from the lamp source under the microscope stage to illuminate the specimen. This light is gathered in the condenser, then shaped into a cone where the apex is focused on the plane of the specimen. In order to view a specimen under a brightfield microscope, the light rays that pass through it must be changed enough in order to interfere with each other (or contrast) and therefore, build an image. At times, a specimen will have a refractive index very similar to the surrounding medium between the microscope stage and the objective lens. When this happens, the image can not be seen. In order to visualize these biological materials well, they must have a contrast caused by the proper refractive indices, or be artificially stained. Since staining can kill specimens, there are times when darkfield microscopy is used instead.

In darkfield microscopy the condenser is designed to form a hollow cone of light (see illustration below), as apposed to brightfield microscopy that illuminates the sample with a full cone of light. In darkfield microscopy, the objective lens sits in the dark hollow of this cone and light travels around the objective lens, but does not enter the cone shaped area. The entire field of view appears dark when there is no sample on the microscope stage. However, when a sample is placed on the stage it appears bright against a dark background. It is similar to back-lighting an object that may be the same color as the background it sits against – in order to make it stand out.

Darkfield microscopy light image

Golden galactic spiral

Illustration provided courtesy of Washington State University.
Darkfield Microscope ApplicationsViewing blood cells (biological darkfield microscope, combined with phase contrast)
Viewing bacteria (biological darkfield microscope, often combined with phase contrast)
Viewing different types of algae (biological darkfield microscope)
Viewing hairline metal fractures (metallurgical darkfield microscope)
Viewing diamonds and other precious stones (gemological microscope or stereo darkfield microscope)
Viewing shrimp or other invertebrates (stereo darkfield microscope)

Darkfield Microscope Options

Metallurigcal reflected light brightfield/darkfield microscope.
Metallurgical reflected and transmitted light brightfield/darkfield microscope.
Stereo microscope 420 with darkfield attachment.
Stereo Zoom SMZ-168 microscope with darkfield attachment.
Biological laboratory phase contrast microscope with darkfield for up to 40x.
Biological laboratory microscope BA210 with darkfield slider.
Biological student microscope 162 with darkfield attachment.

Already have a microscope, but your microscope manufacturer does not make a darkfield stop? If there is a filter holder below your condenser, a darkfield stop we carry may work. Or you can mount a coin or circle of another opaque material in the center of a clear disk and put it in the filter holder.

dark field microscopy advantages

No one system is perfect, and dark field microscopy may or may not appeal to you depending on your needs.

Some advantages of using a dark field microscope are:

Extremely simple to use

Inexpensive to set up (instructions on how to make your own dark field microscope are below)

Very effective in showing the details of live and unstained samples

When to Use a Dark Field Microscope

 

Dark field microscopes are used in a number of different ways to view a variety of specimens that are hard to see in a light field unit. Live bacteria, for example, are best viewed with this type of microscope, as these organisms are very transparent when unstained.There are multitudes of other ways to use dark field illumination, often when the specimen is clear or translucent. Some examples:

Dark field illumination of caffeine crystalsLiving or lightly stained transparent specimens

Single-celled organisms

Live blood samples

Aquatic environment samples (from seawater to pond water)

Living bacteria

Hay or soil samples

Pollen samples

Certain molecules such as caffeine crystals (right)

Dark field microscopy makes many invisible specimens appear visible. Most of the time the specimens invisible to bright field illumination are living, so you can see how important it is to bring them into view!

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