Binocular Microscopy

Binocular microscopes - high magnification seeing true color of surfaces

Our lab uses Zeiss Stemi 508 binocular microscopes mounted with Zeiss AxioCam 208 digital cameras (8 megapixel).  The strength of binocular microscopes is their ability to magnify sample surfaces while preserving the true colors of the sample.

The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) has much greater magnification powers, but "sees" only in grayscale black and white, so all sample color information is lost.

The polarized-light petrographic microscope is capable of analyzing the optical properties of crystalline materials by isolating individual crystal lattice planes, but petrographic samples either must be cut to 30 μm-thick slices for transmitted light, or polished flat to a micron-fine finish for reflected light.

To see the sample surface in its true color, we need binocular microscopes.

We use our binocular microscopes for analyzing sample surfaces and for guiding our hands when mounting very small samples for the electron microscope.

Below is a gallery of examples of images taken by Kutztown University college students using the binocular microscopes.

Carpenter bee head on SEM stub

The university sprayed for bugs, so we collected one to look at with the electron microscope.  This bee head is glued to an SEM sample stub with a conductive glue.  Notice that the image is in focus on the top surface of the head, but not on the lower parts.  This is because microscopes focus on a specific plane and thick samples project above and below that focal plane.  We can correct this problem by using "image stacking."  We take multiple photos of the same sample focused at different depths, then the computer software for the camera combines the images using the part of each image that is well-focused. (original 4.1 Mb image)

Bee wings on SEM stub

These bee wings are stuck to the SEM stub using a special double-sided tape.  The tape is embedded with many tiny threads of electrically conductive graphite fibers to help ground the electrical current from the electron beam. (original 1.2 Mb image)

Malachite by Gabrielle D'Amore

Gabbie had some slices of malachite (Cu2CO3(OH)2) - a copper mineral that forms from oxidation and leaching of other copper minerals.  The dissolved copper reacts with CO2 (usually after it's dissolved into water to form carbonate ion).  The bands form one on top of another as different pulses of copper-bearing waters move through fractures. 
(original 1.5 Mb image)

Malachite by Gabrielle D'Amore

Malachite forms needle-like crystals that grow radially off of a foundation substrate.  Gabbie photographed these bundles of radiating malachite crystals that grew off of a surface of green chalcedony.  The chalcedony layer deposited during a pulse of SiO2-bearing waters that flowed across the surface of older malachite needles (bottom of image). 
(original 6.1 Mb image)

Fluorite from central Pennsylvania limestone

Several limestone quarries in Pennsylvania have purple and white veins of fluorite (CaF2) and calcite (CaCO3).  The veins formed when warm groundwaters flowed through cracks, dissolving calcium from the calcium-bearing rocks along its path, and then re-precipitating the calcium when chemical conditions change.  Depositing calcite veins is common in many limestone deposits, but depositing fluorite is much less common because it requires the presence of fluorine (a slightly rare element).  (original 1.5 Mb image)

Fluorite from central Pennsylvania limestone

The source of the fluorine that causes the mineral fluorite to form in this quarry is unknown.  The amount of fluorite in the deposit is very small, so the quarry does not mine it for civilization's use in making toothpaste and teflon, and also for making a special acid that dissolves glass for industrial uses (hydrofluoric acid).
This image suffers the problem of having depth of field focus problems because it's got a lot of topography.  The student should have used image stacking to correct for this so the whole image would be sharp.  It's still pleasantly colorful image and shows why image stacking is useful.
(original 5.6 Mb image)

Fulgurite found by Kahlan Tripp

Kahlan is a geoarcheologist - someone who studies both geology and archeology.  During one of her digs, she found a layer of ancient, pre-colonial sandy soil that contained fulgurites.  Fulgurites are glass that forms when lightning strikes and melts soil/sand/rock.  The cool rain quenches the molten liquid into glass.  I wonder if humans got the idea for making glass by melting sand by observing fulgurites forming in nature. (original 3.5 Mb image)

Fulgurite found by Kahlan Tripp

These two samples are about the size of a fingernail.  Kahlan graduated and is in grad school now.  She's going to do well in her field because she's very careful and systematic in her observations, she knows a lot about her subjects, and is a good person. (original 4.2 Mb image)

Michael Perrotta retrograde skarn from China

Michael is one of those can-do-everything-and-does-it-well kind of people.  In addition to being a college student, an army medic, an interior contractor and general handyperson, and president of the college Geology Club, he also did a research project studying the geological processes that formed a molybdenum-rich ore in central China.  This is one of his samples that contained molybdenite (silver color = MoS2), prehnite (white = Ca2Al(AlSi3O10)(OH)2), and epidote (bright green = Ca2(Fe,Al)Al2(SiO4)(Si2O7)O(OH)).

(research summary) (original 5.4 Mb image)

Beau Haag quartz-sulfide vein from Alaska

Beau is an exploration geologist now, flying around in helicopters, climbing mountains, and looking for gold in Alaska and British Columbia.  This is a sample of a quartz vein that he found.  The white is quartz (SiO2), brown sphalerite (zinc sulfide = ZnS), and silver galena (lead sulfide = PbS).  You can see how the sulfide minerals grew around and in-between the quartz crystals.  He cut and polished this sample to see if there was also microscopic gold present.

(original 6.2 Mb image)

Maggie Holman fenite veins associated with rare earth element deposit in China

Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a critically-important ingredient in many high-tech applications (e.g., strong magnets, fluorescent materials - the hidden stuff that makes cell phones work, etc.)  Maggie did a research project studying the minerals in veins surrounding a very large REE deposit with the goal of figuring out a criterion for distinguishing REE-related veins from metamorphic veins.  This was important because the veins form a much broader zone that surrounds the ore bodies, so being able to recognize the right veins will help by telling geologists "your getting closer!" when people search for new REE ores.   

(original 1.9 Mb image)

Maggie Holman fenite veins associated with rare earth element deposit in China

The layers in the vein formed as minerals crystallized along the sides of the fracture.  As temperature and chemical conditions changed, the hot water flowing through the fracture alternated between depositing amphibole (black) and pyroxene (green).  In this image, you can see how the richterite amphibole crystals grow as radiating sprays pointing upward.  Maggie presented her research at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver in 2022.  Maggie was brilliant to work with - a very good soul (and hard worker!)  I always miss the good ones after they leave.   (research summary) (original 6.1 Mb image)

Random sand

This is, admittedly, not particularly interesting sand, but it is what a student was interested in seeing for a class project.  This is a webpage of examples of student work, though, and the Stemi binocular microscope is fantastic for studying particles like this.
(original 1.9 Mb image)

Random sand

Magnified a little more, you can see that this sand is almost all quartz (colorless, vitreous grains) with a few grains of magnetite (shiny black iron oxide).  (original 1.3 Mb image)

Iron slag

When extracting metal from rock in a smelter, the concentrated or gets melted into an artificial lava called slag.  The slag gets poured out on a big pile where it crystallizes into an artificial volcanic rock.  It's a fascinating material to study.  This sample was collected by an incoming freshperson who came in during the summer to explore the labs.  (original 1.4 Mb image)

Iron slag

The slag had bubbles in the glassy portion.  We use the binocular microscope to see the true colors and document the major low-magnification features to serve as a map for higher-magnification studies using the polarized-light petrographic microscope and scanning electron microscope.  Each microscope provides a different view and complementary data that meshes with other views to form a more holistic understanding. (original 1.34 Mb image)