Microscopes have come a long way since the initial versions. With the advent of time, many types of microscopes have been able to study intricate objects, even cells. Cells are the building blocks of living organisms and are not visible to the naked eye. That is why humans have used microscopes for a long time to observe cells and their properties. But what microscope can see cells?
You can see microscopes with a light microscope and an electron microscope. However, the observations vary. Keep reading to know how you can see cells under microscopes.
But first, here’s an overview of cells for you:
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What are Cells?
Cells are the building blocks of living organisms. They are so small that you cannot see them without a microscope. Despite being microscopic, cells have numerous organelles that work together to sustain life. The nucleus helps transfer hereditary information through generations, while the mitochondria supply energy for cellular functions. Besides the nucleus and mitochondria, cells have many other organelles, including cell membranes, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, lysosomes, etc.
How Small are Cells?
You might wonder how small cells are that you need to see them under a microscope!
Generally, cells range between 1µm and 100µm. Plant cells are larger than animal cells and microorganisms due to the presence of a cell wall. For example, the smallest bacteria is only 0.2 µm, while plant cells can be as large as 100µm.
Who First Discovered Cells?
Robert Hooke was the first person to see cells in 1665. He used a microscope with three lenses and an illuminator which enlarged the specimens. He observed a thin piece of cork under the microscope to observe its structure. The cork seemed like it was made of tiny pores that Hooke named “cells” as they reminded him of cells in a monastery.
He mentioned in his book Micrographia, “I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular… these pores, or cells,…were indeed the first microscopic pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this…”
With further advancements in microscopy, biologists started studying plants and animal cells. Initially, scientists believed plants were made of cells (because of their thick cell walls) but were unsure about animal cells.
German scientists Theodore Schwann and Mattias Schleiden later studied animal and plant cells, respectively. They identified key differences between the two cell types and revealed that cells were the fundamental units of both animals and plants.
What Microscope Can See Cells?
Understanding the origin of cells makes it more convenient and easy to understand what microscope can see cells to which extent.
You can observe cells under the best compound light microscope and also under an electron microscope.
Light microscopes are low-magnification microscopes usually used in schools, whereas research laboratories use electron microscopes to study intricate details of cells. Here’s how you see cells in different microscopes:
Cells under a Light Microscope
Many processes require observing cells under a light microscope to study their structure or pathology. A light microscope uses objective lenses and eyepieces to produce an image of the object illuminated by the light source.
Besides observing the overall outlook of a cell, you can also see organelles such as the cell membrane and the nucleus. While the light microscope does not offer a detailed examination of cellular processes, you might see how mitochondria interact with the cell, but you cannot see mitochondria’s structure in detail.
Brightfield microscopy lets you study specimens on a bright background, whereas darkfield microscopy helps observe translucent specimens like bacteria on a dark background.
Alternatively, you can also use an inverted light microscope that illuminates the specimen from above. It is common to study bacterial culture dishes in research. Observing bacterial cells under an inverted microscope also helps in drug discovery screening and various research modules.
Cells under an Electron Microscope
Electron microscopes can magnify specimens up to millions of times to study their intricate details. The microscopes use a beam of electrons to examine the sample and create an image.
Compared to light microscopes, electron microscopes give you the structure of different organelles within the cell. For example, you can see the inner structure of mitochondria that a light microscope cannot show.
Most researchers use a scanning electron microscope other than an electron microscope to get a three-dimensional image of the sample. The electrons scan the surface of a specimen, and the detector records the pattern to give you an image.
However, transmission electron microscopes are more suitable for studying organelles; they offer analysis at a high level of detail.
Cells under Confocal Microscopes
Besides light and electron microscopes, you can also observe cells under confocal microscopes. They allow you to study living cells in the tissue and how they change over time. These microscopes comprise a laser source, microscope stand, confocal scanner, and a detection system with computer software.
A photodetector detects the reflected laser beams from the specimen to produce the observation. Researchers often employ confocal microscopy to study the pathogenesis of disease in tissues. You can configure confocal microscopes on upright and inverted microscope stands per need.
The Bottom Line
Microscopes have always been helpful in studying cells since Robert Hooke observed them in 1665. Later, German scientists Theodore Schwann and Mattias Schleiden studied animal and plant cells, respectively. Cells typically range between 1µm and 100µm, making it impossible to observe them without a microscope. The answer to what microscope can see cells is not limited to one option only. You can observe cells under light, confocal, and electron microscopes. Light and confocal microscopes give an overview of the specimen, while electron microscopes give detailed imaging of cell organelles.