Everything You Need to Know About A Dissecting Microscope

Ever heard of microscopes? I’m sure pretty much most of us know a thing or two about microscopes. You may have even seen an actual one or even used it. Microscopes can be pretty interesting even for those who aren’t that much into science.

In fact, microscopy is the science wherein specimens are investigated under an instrument called microscope for larger and better viewing. There are different kinds of microscopes according to function, and a dissecting microscope is one of them.

Here’s everything you need to know about a dissecting microscope, such as what it is, its parts and uses, how it works, and many more. Enjoy reading down below!

What is a dissecting microscope?

A dissecting microscope, or more commonly known as a stereo microscope, is a microscope that gives a three-dimensional view of a specimen. This is because of the binocular head, or the two eyepieces that are slightly angled, which creates the perfect peripheral vision that results in a three-dimensional visual. 

Each of the eyepieces’ magnification ranges from about 10x to 40x, and, compared to the compound microscope, a dissecting microscope uses light reflected from the surface rather than through it. 

The stereoscopic or dissecting microscope magnifies objects or specimens that are not allowed to be magnified in a compound microscope, like flowers, coins, rocks, insects, and so on. These objects are opaque, hence light doesn’t pass through them.

History and origin

In 1677, a monk called Cherubin d’Orleans (1613-1697) made a small microscope with two separate eye lenses and objective lenses, thus creating the first pseudo-stereoscopic microscope. During this time, he was unaware of how his invention will impact the world until an English scientist and inventor first went into depth about the details of the stereoscopic microscope in 1852.

Since then, the principles of microscopy and the tools that are used to practice it, which includes dissecting microscopes, have greatly evolved into the modern devices that they are now.


Here are a few common characteristics of a dissecting microscope:

  • Binocular head (two separate eyepieces)
  • Two separate objectives
  • Three-dimensional view
  • Uses natural light from specimen (natural light reflected from it)
  • Low magnification range, between 10x to 40x

What is a dissecting microscope used for?

What is a dissecting microscope used for?
Source: NIAID

A stereo microscope is also called a dissecting microscope for a reason. Its function allows you to use the microscope and work with it in real time while observing it, hence coining the term “dissecting”.

 It can be used for various situations as its main function is to provide a wider perspective of the specimen. Below are a few examples of its uses.

School & college laboratories

Laboratories often contain this type of microscope for it is a low power equipment and perfect for lesson usage. Teachers who instruct experiments often use the dissecting microscope to give students a wider and larger view of the organs of an insect or an animal.

Biological Applications

The dissecting microscope can also be used for biological applications, and even microsurgeries as this microscope provide magnification together with a wider field of vision. Most of the surgeons opt for this microscope because of the view dimension it provides.


One of the uses of a dissecting microscope is to view and examine flat and shiny surfaces because of its function that uses the specimen’s natural light. Gemologists use this microscope to observe the grades of a gemstone and its qualities. Because of its double-lighting function, gems placed on the stage plate provide a clearer view for examination.


Because of the dissecting microscope’s function on investigating the specimen’s external feature, it is used on studying plants and flowers for it does not need that high of a magnification, but just a wider field of vision of the specimen being investigated. Hence, when studying plants, biologists use this type of microscope because of its outer surface-function.

What are the parts of a dissecting microscope?

Just like any other microscope, a dissecting microscope has its own unique parts that contribute to its function. Enumerated below are some of the parts and their functions.

Objective lens

A dissecting microscope has two objective lenses, connected to each one of the eye pieces. These are the lenses most near to the specimen to which purpose is to magnify the details of the specimen viewed. 

Ocular lens

These are the eyepieces through where the viewer looks to view the specimen. For the dissecting microscope, it has two eyepieces, usually called the binocular heads. 

Diopter setting 

This function is used to focus both of the eyepieces differently at the perfect level, helping prevent eye strain as the viewer gets to adjust the focus of the binocular head.

Focus knob

The focus knob is the control that moves the head of the microscope up and down to adjust how amplified and near the binocular head to the specimen will be. Most of the dissecting microscopes have a standard focusing called “rack and pinion”. The rack is the track with teeth and the pinion is the gear that rides on the teeth. 


The lighting of the microscope helps view the specimen better. There are two types of lighting, the top lighting which is the one who shines down lighting to the specimen and reflects light off of them, and the bottom lighting which transmits light up to the specimen, making it closer to translucent. 

Stage plate

This is where the specimen will be placed for viewing. Some microscopes have reversible black and white stage plates to help with the contrast of the specimen, hence making it look clearer. 

How many lenses does a dissecting microscope have?

A dissecting microscope consists of a binocular head, or simply two eyepieces that are held by the stereo head. 

Compared to the compound microscope that has only one eyepiece, this microscope that has two eyepieces, provides a more complex way of viewing. Because of its binocular head, the view from both eyes is different, giving off a three-dimensional view of the specimen. 

Read also: The Microscope’s Iris Diaphragm: What it Does And How it Works

How does a dissecting microscope work?

Source: NIAID

A dissecting microscope, just like any other microscope, has a specific function and use that makes it different from all the other microscopes. Here’s how:

Three-dimensional view

A dissecting microscope or stereo microscope uses low magnification for its function. Its main focus is to provide a three-dimensional view for the specimen by its binocular head or two eyepieces. The two eyepieces see the same specimen but at a different angle, creating the 3D effect.

Like the human eyes, both left and right eyes see the same view but in different angles which makes everything look real. For this purpose, the dissecting microscope is best used for opaque objects/specimens that do not necessarily need high magnification, but just a three-dimensional view.

Compared to other microscopes, this microscope also uses the natural reflective light of a specimen which is ideal when dealing with thick and opaque specimens.

How to use a dissecting microscope?

The good news is, dissecting microscopes are fairly easy to operate. Here’s how:


  1. A microscope is a fragile object. Always carry it with two hands to prevent dropping or bumping anywhere. Use one hand to carry the microscope’s body and the other to support its base. 
  2. Remove the cover and place it on a sturdy and stable platform.
  3. Prepare the specimen to view and place it on a container beside the microscope.


  1. Use the magnification knob on the top or the side of the microscope’s body to adjust its magnification to the lowest level as your standard starting point. 
  2. Look through the eyepieces and adjust its interpupillary lenses. This determines the actual view of the specimen from the lenses. If the image of the specimen is only one, then there is no adjustment needed. If you see two images of the specimen or just a black image then you need to adjust the lenses to view the specimen clearly.
  3. Adjust also the eyepieces according to your eyes’ distances. You can adjust it towards each other or far apart to get the perfect view of your specimen.
  4. Place the specimen on your stage plate and investigate your specimen.


  1. Clean the stage plate off of any residue of the specimen used. This is important especially if you used specimens with dangerous contaminants.
  2. Get the microscope’s body to the lowest position, just like folding it.
  3. Replace the cover to avoid getting dust on it.
  4. Lastly, store the microscope back to its place on the cabinet using two hands.

Final tips

A dissecting microscope focuses solely on the outer surface of the specimen, mostly of opaque objects that light can’t pass through. It also does not offer high magnification unlike any other microscope. Its function is to give the viewer a wider field of vision all the while being able to work with it in real time.

One key phrase to remember for the dissecting microscope is its “three-dimensional view”. The specimen doesn’t need to be sliced, or be in a larger firm, the microscope will surely do its job well. Another, lighting can also be in two ways, whether it is from the top or bottom. 

Remember, using the perfect microscope for your desired function is a must, after all, microscopes aren’t that cheap. If this microscope’s function suits on what you’re looking for, then we are glad to help! 

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