[MH005] The home laboratory for amateur microscopy

[MH005] The home laboratory for amateur microscopy

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The three “S” of a home laboratory

In most cases, there is no need for a separate lab. Much depends on how much you want to do sample preparation.

  • Stable: You need a stable table for you microscope.
  • Storage: The microscope should be able to be locked away in a dust-free space, when not in use, or at least be covered with a dust cover.
  • Safety: Chemicals should not be in the reach of children and in the case of leaks, they should be contained, so that they can not damage other objects.

The advantages of a dedicated lab

  • Safe working environment: You need to protect family members, furniture and your own health from the chemicals that you use.
  • Convenience and comfort: A dedicated work place does not require you to pack and unpack the chemicals and equipment that you use.
  • Equipment safety: Microscopes should not be moved around too much – there is the danger that you drop them on your toes. This may hurt your microscope… 🙂
  • Specimen quality: A proper work place makes it easier to produce (nearly) dust-free specimens. There is also less hassle.
  • Fun and motivation: It’s simply more fun to work in an environment which has been designed accordingly. After all, it’s a hobby.

The requirements of setting up a microscopy work place

  • Place for the microscope: The scope should have its own place and ideally it should not be necessary to pack and unpack the instrument. The table should be extremely stable to minimize vibrations. It should be easily cleanable with water to remove dust. There should be drawers for storing microscopic tools, slides and mounting media.
  • Place for chemicals: You need a safe place to store the chemicals. You must be able to lock away the substances to protect them from kids. The place should also allow for containment and easy cleaning, in case there are spills. I once dropped a small bottle of iodine solution on our wood floor. The top layer of the wood floor had to be polished away because the solution ate its way into the wood, staining it red.
  • Family friendliness: This one is often overlooked. I once got into trouble with my family because I wanted to store fly maggots and earth worms for dissection in the kitchen refrigerator. I did not even dare to ask if it is OK to modify the living room to accommodate a work bench for the microscope. The living room cupboards are also taboo for chemicals, also due to safety considerations. After all, children might be around.
  • Dust-free environment: Often a difficult thing to achieve. Electronic equipment likes to attract dust due to static electricity. This dust can be quite interesting to observe under the microscope, but in most cases it is a serious nuisance, greatly decreasing the quality of microscopic images.
  • A place for storing water samples: Pond water samples should not be stored in direct sunlight. This may cause overheating and (if there are few algae in the sample) a reduction in oxygen. The water can turn foul.
  • Running water and sink: This is needed for cleaning the equipment and for disposing (permitted) solutions. Note, that some wastes must be collected and disposed separately.
  • Work bench: You need some space for staining and preparing the slides. Some stains can be very aggressive and will irreversibly stain wood and other organic materials. Make sure that the work bench is easily cleanable.
  • Ventilation: You need fresh air if you work with volatile solvents such as alcohol.