Microscope comfort

Following these basic workstation rules will help reduce fatigue and stress on your body when using a microscope:

First of all… Have a break

Basic rules of well being on any workstation apply to microscopy:
Long work period = appropriate work/rest ratio and schedules.

A well-designed lab plan will incorporate both microscope and non-microscope tasks. A five minute break every half hour is not counter productive for an 8 hours microscopy session!! Don’t expect that you will automatically remember to take breaks while you are working so set an alarm!!

Eyes & Lighting

Long hours at a microscope without a break, bad lighting and preexisting eye conditions contribute to eyestrain. Make sure your eyes are healthy before and get regular eye exams (especially the hard core microscope users).). It is important to protect your eyes as much as possible while working with a microscope for long periods of time.

Always use the microscope in a well-lit area. Using a microscope in bad lighting will strain your eyes and contribute to fatigue. If the room’s lighting conditions are inappropriate, adjust them to fit your needs.

Eye fatigue can be minimized in a well-designed visual environment. Where possible, minimize the contrast between light levels in the microscope in comparison to light levels in the room you are working in. Avoid glare and reflections in the work area. Glare can be decreased by removing light sources from the visual field. If necessary, re-position workstations, use blinds or curtains, and remove highly reflective surfaces or by use shielding screens.

Practice continuously focusing in order to minimize eye strain.
It is important to set the inter-pupillary distance and eye-piece parfocality to fit you eyes and minimizes strain.

Get a camera

If your have access to the equipment, don’t hesitate to use a camera and a screen. I personally think that it kills the charm of the microscope and the image is never as gorgeous as it is through the eyepiece. However, if you plan to spend HOURS examining slides, it might be the best option. If you use a camera and a screen make sure to follow eyes safety rule for screens.

The good posture

Looking through a microscope places your body in an unnaturally rigid position. This can cause cramped muscles and strained tendons and ligaments in the head, neck, back, shoulders, arms and wrists.
Also, repetitive movements associated with microscope work can cause strain injuries (see RSI content). About 80 percent of all full-time microscope users report such pain, and about 20 percent of them miss work at some point. Microscope workstations that adjust to the user can reduce those injuries.

Microscopes cause more strain on your body than computers, because of the eye-piece requirements.

“Microscopists know how to align their microscope but few align themselves”

The workbench height is important and should be adjustable so that the eye-piece height is adjustable but this may be the case only in a perfect world.

Fixed workbench height

(unlucky Ph.D. student)

First, get a good chair, or even better: an ergonomically-designed chair.

The most important part of the chair you choose is the lumbar support, the back should be high enough for height and angle needed to support your back. The seat has to be low enough to have the back ‘totally straight‘ to see through the eyepieces. Move the chair towards the bench so the chair fully supports the back, even if this feels unnatural, it is what you need. Most microscope users have the seat too high, which results in ‘hunching’.

Sitting for long periods places strain on the lower back, so stand up during the breaks.

Non-Fixed workbench height

(lucky Ph.D. student)

Get your posture in the chair right, then adjust the table/microscope height until the oculars meet the eyes.
Adjust chair height so that your feet sit comfortably on the floor.
You may want to tilt the seat slightly down at the front so it eliminates any pinches behind the knees.
Vary position from time to time in order to spread the stress load on the your back and leg muscles.

Adjust the chair for comfort without regard to the height of the microscope.

Never over-extend forward to look into the eyepieces.

    Set the microscope’s eye-pieces no further away from you than the front edge of the workbench.

    • Set the microscope a little higher for comfort. Elevate it if necessary (I consider that a microscope that can’t be moved is a microscope that can be equipped with a camera, then you’re wasting your time reading this). The point is to force yourself to straighten your back, so that your head is in an upright position.
    • Do not bend your neck to look into the oculars. Look down by letting your eyes view at a downward angle.
      Remember to leave clearance for your thighs, it is a master key for comfort.

    Get some forearm-rests so that you do not constantly keep lifting your arms off the workbench to adjust the microscope, these are best if they are sloping. There are some accessories designed for this purpose, but you can just McGyver one with whatever you find in your lab.

    Wearing glasses & Using a microscope

    Since binocular microscope is a well-named device, it does have two eye pieces, one for each eye, and the individual focus and distance between them can be adjusted separately. This will enable people who are nearsighted or farsighted in one eye to use the microscope without glasses. However users with astigmatism still need to wear glasses with binocular microscopes, and it may be challenging to take your glasses off and on again every time you want to write a piece of data or a comment on your notepad.

    If you do want to keep your glasses on, you may have trouble getting the full image or even have problems with banging it on the eyepiece.
    Depending on the time you will spend behind your microscope, the choice of eyepiece will affect your comfort level when wearing glasses.
    Consequently, eyepieces with a wide lens and/or a ring of rubber make using a microscope easier and more confortable.

    Weird microscopes…

    Human germ exchange

    A microscope is as dirty as the last person’s mouth and eyes that has used it.

    You may want to disinfect the eyepiece. Because germs are easily spread through the eyes, nose and mouth, cleaning the piece will ensure that you will not catch an infection. Use a soft, lint-free cloth and a small amount of disinfectant glass cleaner to wipe the top of the eyepiece. Allow the liquid to air dry.
    Moreover, the microscope is an astonishing eye rubbing trigger, make sure your hands are clean too!!

    A little bomb

    Some spooky microscopes have a built-in light with a mercury lamp, which sometime explode. If it does happen, then evacuate and seal off the area immediately, and notify the person or department in charge of the laboratory of the explosion. Mercury gas is not friendly to your lungs or your DNA. Take immediate action and seek medical treatment if needed.


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