Introductory Microscopy Projects for Schools

Are you looking for simple microscopy projects for classrooms? Here is a list of ideas. Do not forget about safety measures!
Here is a list of microscopy ideas that could be conducted with students and children:

  • Observing dust samples: Students should collect house-dust and bring it to class to be observed under the stereo or compound microscope. Careful, some people may be allergic to dust!
  • Observing sand and soil samples: Students should collect sand and soil samples to be observed under the stereo microscope.
  • Observing textile fibers: Observing various fibers obtained from clothing (cotton, polyester, nylon etc.). Different colors and textures become visible under the microscope.
  • Which printer is the best? Students bring in print-outs of different pictures on different types of paper. The printing resolution can be observed under the stereo microscope.
  • Observing water life: A large jar is filled with pond water and a little soil. Algae and other organisms will (hopefully) develop over the course of a few weeks. Do not let the water rot!
  • Fungi from cheese: Camembert, Brie, etc. contain edible molds (not hazardous) and can be used. Much safer than rotting food and observing the molds.
  • Vegetables and fruits: The teacher cuts the tomatoes and mushrooms in various ways, they can be observed under the stereo microscope. Do not eat the food afterward, you never know what chemicals were left behind on the microscope by previous classes…..
  • Hair samples: Each student donates one hair and then they have to match them with the hair left behind on the “crime site”. This is a playful approach into forensics and gives the observation some purpose. Maybe a competition between different groups is also a nice idea. The teacher may have to prepare a set of permanent slides with some hair samples.
  • Coins: Coins collect many scratches (and dirt) over the years. How can the scratches be quantified? Is it possible to predict the age of a coin by looking at the number of scratches? The year is imprinted in the coin.
  • Observing human cheek cells: This is a classic, really. Using a cotton swab, some epithelium cells from the inside of the mouth are collected and transferred to a microscopic slide.

Things NOT to observe – Some specimens or samples should not be observed in a classroom setting:

  • Spoiled food material: they contain hazardous bacteria and fungi. Spores are unhealthy to breath in.
  • Body parts: Samples taken from wounds (pus etc).
  • Blood samples or other body fluids.
  • Urine: Some students (often boys…) may be interested in observing their own urine. Fresh urine should be free of microorganisms (unless there is an infection) and it is not an interesting sample to be observed.
  • Animal wastes: Excrements of animals are prone to contain parasites and are a clear health hazard.
  • Polluted water Water from polluted rivers, lakes may contain toxic substances and harmful microorganisms. Leave stuff like this to university-level students, who (should) know appropriate safety procedures.