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Let me start by saying I have never used a microscope outdoors, and in general I have never owned a microscope nor used one regularly.

However, I am currently developing and organising some activities for children, to be carried out in a woodland. I thought it would be really interesting to use a microscope to analyse and compare different samples: leaves, insects, etc. In a word, to do some "field microscopy" (I googled that, but doesn't seem to be a popular expression).

  1. Is it possible?

  2. Is it easy?

  3. What type of microscope should I look for? We have quite a bit of funding, so feel free to suggest anything.

Thank you very much.

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  • $\begingroup$ Worth considering DSLR and Macro lens. Take a look at macro photography samples. Advantage over microscope is that it is way easy to handle outdoors. $\endgroup$ – Dexter Nov 14 '15 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ Use of pocket microscopes is not only professional; it is antique enough. $\endgroup$ – Always Confused Apr 22 '17 at 12:37
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1: Yes it is possible

2: It's not as easy as lab conditions because of variable conditions, chances of equipment breaking, especially when small children are involved.

3: You can also look at a Foldscope. Its a small, but powerful microscope made with paper. It was developed by a scientist called Manu Prakash, and although it is still in its beta testing stage, I'm sure you would be able to obtain a few for your students. It is incredibly cheap, very customizable and really user friendly.

P.S.: With the amount I endorse the Foldscope, you would have thought they could have shipped one of the damn things to India for me.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow nice information about foldscope. $\endgroup$ – Always Confused Apr 22 '17 at 11:50
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You could go wild in a forest with a microscope if you had batteries.

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. 200X
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There are a range of "nature microscopes" you can buy that will do this.

One cool new portable microscope with video storage is the Mustcam.

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My suggestion would be to (have the children) construct some pooters (with a clear vessel to allow viewing) to catch small insects with and use magnifying glasses or hand lenses like this one which gives a range of magnifications.

For most of the things you would want to look at you would not need massive magnification (i.e. you wouldn't need a scope). Microscopes also give the issue of how to fix the object (if it's a living mobile thing) to immobilise it, and a magnifying lens is generally more portable and affordable.

A good tip for looking at very small things up close in the field is to look at them the with binoculars but using the binoculars backwards - it allows you to get a good close view.

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IMO you don't need more than 20-40x for bugs and leaves. Beyond that it gets hard to find and focus on the sample, and the optics have more obvious aberrations.

"Field microscope" is a good category to look for. You need a light source in the scope -- most have a small LED. I got a couple of these for my 6- and 8-year-old kids and they have surprisingly good optical quality and durability. I linked to Amazon because there is a sample photo in the reviews. I'm a professional microscopist, so I'm picky about these things, but I was impressed.

With the field scope I mentioned you can pull off the stage (part that holds a slide) and just hold the scope up to the side of a tree or a rock. Super cool.

Also, look for some rotten wood, or an acorn with a hole in it, and break it up to find the insect larvae inside.

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