Although a microscope is well associated with serious and important activities performed by medical professionals and scientists, this device can actually be used for fun and educational experiments that can be carried out by your kids. These activities can be a good bonding session between parents and their children during the weekend. Aside from the enjoyment it brings, performing these experiments can be an informative experience that children and teens can benefit from for their educational development or homeschooling lessons.
For your reference, below are some of the fun and safe experiments that you and your kids can do with a microscope. Prior to doing any of these investigations, it is presumed that you have your own, or at least access to a microscope and some other cheap microscope tools.
1. The Onion Experiment
You will find this experiment fascinating as the thin, transparent epidermis layer you can extract from onions will be a good specimen to look at down a microscope. It will enable you to observe nuclear division and determine the different stages of the cell cycle i.e. whether the cell is in mitosis or interphase. This is easy and does not require a lot of materials to perform. Adult supervision is recommended though as onions can be toxic to kids if ingested.
Materials Required: Glass microscope slide and coverslip, fresh onion, tweezers,knife, water and dropper, methylene blue (optional)
- The first step is of course to cut and peel a fresh onion, ensuring you cut as small as possible. Once cut into small portions, peel some onion skin away for analysis.
- The next step here is to put a few drops of clean water onto the slide using a dropper; this is required to prevent the onion specimen from getting dry
- Next, use your tweezers to collect a piece of the thin membrane from the onion; it is the transparent layer or part of the onion under the skin; while this is generally safe, do not let young kids do this unsupervised as onion samples could hurt their eyes and result in a dramatic onion crying scenario; gloves may be worn as needed
- Now, use your tweezers to put the samples or thin layers of onion onto the slide with a few drops of water; it is optional to put a few drops of methylene blue onto the sample to stain the specimen and make it’s internal structures more visible, however you should still be able to make out cell structures such as the nucleus
- Put the coverslip on the specimen or the slide; press it gently to make sure that there are no bubbles or air on the sample that you will use
- Place the slide with the specimen on the microscope’s platform. Be ready to get amazed with what you will see
2. Experiment using Pond Water
Another easy and fun experiment to do with a microscope, which your kids can also perform, is to use nearby pond water, or any other body of water in the local vicinity. You can examine the hidden world of your pond, allowing you to observe what your naked eyes can’t see. Although this is generally safe to be performed – even by kids, make sure that proper guidance is given as pond water is not always the safest substance and is obviously not acceptable for drinking. You can also use different samples of water such as clean, dirty and pond water for analysis and comparison of the local ecosystem and water quality.
Materials Required: Collection container, pond water, dropper, concave microscope slide with coverslip, stick or spoon
- Collect a sample of water from a nearby water source, as well as drinking water for a clear comparison, you can easily use a bucket or cup for collection
- To prepare your pond water sample, use a stick to stir the water gently in order to mix all the components; this will ensure all the contents are seen – it will be more interesting to see a good mix of particles and creatures under the microscope
- Once the water has turned murky, scoop a small sample using your container
- Using your dropper/pipette, collect a small sample from the jar and put a few drops on the concave slide; be sure to use one slide per sample of water collected for an accurate analysis
- Place the coverslip carefully on the sample or the slide
- Put the slides with the sample water under the microscope. Is there anything interesting to see? Let us know!
If you live near the coast, you could also try investigating the your local marine life, as there are some truly fascinating creatures. Take the Gnathophausia zoea (see
image) this is a infant crab and fascinating to observe under the microscope. The sinister looking spines are there to make it look less appealing to hungry predators such as larval fish.
3. Fiber Experiment
Another interesting item to use for a safe and intriguing microscope experiment are fibres. The benefit of this one, is that it is perhaps the safest and can be done by kids for a fun and engaging experience. You can use many different fabrics for this activity. You can even try extracting fibres from your old jeans or your mom’s unwanted sweater for analysis.
Materials Required: Pieces or thread from samples of clothing such as jeans and sweaters, 2 to 3 plain microscope slides with coverslip (one slide per type of fabric), water and dropper (optional)
- Using the dropper, put a few drops of water on the slide; this is optional as you can still see the fiber even if it’s dry, but putting a few drops of water on the sample will make it more visible and easier to stabilise on the slide
- Using your tweezers, get a a large sample or single thread from the fabric and put them on the slide; you may want to use different fabrics for comparison, but make sure to use a different slide for each type of fabric
- Put on the coverslip and gently press it down on the sample, removing any of the air bubbles by applying a little pressure using your fingers
- Now, put the slides on the microscope’s platform one at a time and compare how each fiber looks when magnified under a microscope
4. Human or Animal Hair Experiment
This one is as interesting as the fiber experiment. It is also pretty straightforward as you do not need any samples other than hair strands that you can easily collect from around the home. To make it more fun and exciting, get hair samples from each member of your family and be amazed how each hair strand can look so different under a microscope. You can also get a sample from your pet for a neat comparison between human and animal hair, observing the differences between texture, colour and size.
Materials Required: Hair strands, plain microscope slide with coverslip, tweezers, water and dropper (optional)
- As you have learned from the previous sample, putting a drop of water on a dry specimen is optional, but it can make the sample more visible; do this if you wish by putting a few drops of water on the slide using your dropper. However, don’t worry – you can also use a dry sample for this too, although, be aware that it may be unstable on the slide and as a result more difficult to view down the scope
- Use your tweezers to get a few hair samples and put them on the glass slide; use a different slide for each hair sample, this will allow you to make accurate comparisons
- Next, cover the specimen using the coverslip
- Finally, put the slides under your microscope and be thrilled to see how hair strands are unique from one another depending on the age of the person you got it from, the hairstyle, the colour and the species! Make a note of any other differences and carry out research like a real scientist!