Rights: University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved. Published 29 February 2012 Download

Allan Mitchell (Microscopy Otago) discusses some things to consider when planning a microscope experiment. He highlights how important it is to know what you want to find out before you start. You should also think carefully about preparing the sample for microscopy and how this might affect it and consider how you’ll know if what you’re seeing through the microscope is real.

Jargon alert: In this clip, Allan talks about the ‘native state’. A biological sample in the native state would look exactly as it did whilst still alive. In practice, samples start to change as soon as the preparation process for microscopy begins, so it’s important to be aware of this when doing your microscope experiment.


When you’re planning a microscope experiment, there’s actually quite a number of things you really need to think about. The first and most obvious one is actually what is your question, what is it you’re trying to actually work out? Then you have to think about things like how your sample is going to be prepared. Do you have the expertise to do that sample preparation? Do you have the equipment available? If you don’t have the expertise, is someone around who can help you? You also need to think about what’s going to happen to your sample during that preparation procedure. Is it going to be altered in any way, and is that alteration going to be too far away from really the native state?

Another thing you need to think about is how are you going to know the results you’re getting are actually accurate? Have you got controls for your experiment so that you can compare that to your experimental procedure and see if it’s looking similar? For example, if you’re looking at ultrastructure, you may want to compare it to papers that other people have published or textbooks where similar organelles may be seen.