What Is The Difference between Light Microscope and Electron Microscope?

So, what is the main difference between light microscope and electron microscope? The former is has a lower magnification while the latter has a higher magnification and resolution. 

Microscopes are available in different sizes and applications. It is the reason behind many learners finding it challenging to distinguish them.  Light and electron microscopes are the most common microscopes in school laboratories. These instruments have unique features and meant for different purposes. 

Both microscopes use radiations to form a detailed image of an object that a human eye cannot see using naked eyes. These instruments are used at both the high school and university levels.  This article provides detailed differences between light and electron microscope in a tabular form. Take the time to read through it and learn more about their similarities. 

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Difference between Light Microscope and Electron Microscope (With Table)

Basic Terms Light Microscope Electron Microscope
Year of Discovery 1590 by Zoocharia Janssen 1931 by Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll
Sources of illumination Visible light Beam of electrons
Lenses Condenser lens, eyepiece, and objective lens Projector lens, objective, and condenser lens
Type of Lenses Glass lens material Electromagnetic lens material
Magnification Power 1000X.             10,00,000X.
Resolving Power 0.2 µm 0.001 µm
Viewing Screen Image is the view directly through the eyepiece Image is viewed on the fluorescent screen
Amount of Power The low power supply amount The high power supply amount
Cooling system Not available Readily available
Preparation Simple and fast to prepare the sample Complex to prepare the sample
Types Ultraviolet microscopy, bright field microscopy, confocal microscopy, darkfield microscopy, differential interference contrast microscopy, phase contrast microscope, and fluorescence microscopy. Scanning transmission electron microscope, scanning electron microscope, transmission electron microscope, focused ion beam, and electron microscope.
Cost Affordable Quite expensive
Vacuum system Does not have a vacuum system Have a vacuum system
Filament Does not have one Have Tungsten filament
Leakage of Radiation No leakage Susceptible to radiation  leakage
Colour of image Coloured Black and white
Contrast image Specimen need to be stained Specimens need to be coated by heavy metal.
Size Comparatively smaller Tend to be larger in size
Image Visibility Suitable for both dead and living cells Only suitable for dead cells
Dimension of Image Getting a detailed structure of the object is hard 3D structure of the object
Availability Readily available Not available
Common Place of Usage In Schools, Colleges and Universities Labs Research extensive institutions and hospitals

What Is A Light Microscope?

A light microscope, also known as an optical or a compound microscope, is an essential tool in biological and scientific research for observing specimens at the cellular and microscopic levels. It operates on the principles of visible light, using lenses to magnify and illuminate the specimen.

The basic design of a light microscope includes an objective lens, an eyepiece, and a light source. The specimen is placed on a glass slide and illuminated from below, either by a built-in light source or an external light. The objective lens magnifies the specimen, and the eyepiece further magnifies the image for observation.

Light microscopes are widely used in various fields, such as biology and medicine, due to their versatility and ease of use. They offer magnification levels ranging from 40x to 1000x, allowing researchers to visualize details of cells, tissues, and small organisms. Light microscopes are particularly suitable for observing living specimens, as they do not require a vacuum environment.

While light microscopes provide valuable insights into biological structures, their resolution is limited by the wavelength of visible light, restricting the observation of smaller structures. Despite this limitation, light microscopes remain indispensable for routine laboratory work and educational purposes, offering a practical and accessible means for scientists and students to explore the microscopic world.

Advantages of a Light Microscope 

  1. Quite affordable 
  2. Suitable for living and dead specimens
  3. The natural color of objects is maintained 
  4. The image can be seen directly 
  5. No high electricity voltage is required 
  6. No effect of magnification 

Disadvantages of a Light Microscope 

  1. Revolving and magnification power is low 
  2. Preparation of specimen is tricky 
  3. Does not provide detailed information about an atom 
  4. Light beams do not travel in a straight path 
  5. Not ideal for small organisms 

What Is An Electron Microscope?

An electron microscope is an advanced imaging tool that employs a beam of electrons instead of visible light to achieve unparalleled levels of magnification and resolution in the observation of microscopic structures. Operating on the principles of electron optics, these microscopes offer the ability to visualize objects at the nanoscale, allowing for detailed examination of subcellular structures, nanoparticles, and various materials.

The core components of an electron microscope include an electron source, electromagnetic lenses, and a detector. Instead of using glass lenses as in light microscopes, electron microscopes utilize magnetic fields to focus and direct electron beams. Two main types of electron microscopes exist: transmission electron microscopes (TEM) and scanning electron microscopes (SEM).

In transmission electron microscopes, electrons pass through thin specimens, forming detailed images of internal structures. This technique is especially useful for studying cellular and molecular details. Scanning electron microscopes, on the other hand, scan the specimen’s surface with a focused electron beam, creating detailed three-dimensional images of the specimen’s topography.

Electron microscopes offer significantly higher magnification levels, often exceeding 50,000 times, and exceptional resolution, down to the atomic level. However, they require a vacuum environment, limiting their use for imaging living specimens. Electron microscopes are crucial tools in various scientific disciplines, including materials science, biology, and nanotechnology, providing invaluable insights into the intricate world of ultrafine structures.

Advantages of an Electron Microscope

  1. Has the best revolving power 
  2. The magnification is 10000 times 
  3. Provide a 3D image 
  4. Provide more clarity due to shorter wavelength 
  5. Provide detailed information about a specimen

Disadvantages of an Electron Microscope 

  1. Provide black and white images only 
  2. Tedious to prepare specimens 
  3. Quite complex to operate 
  4. Too expensive to acquire 
  5. Suitable for dead specimens
  6. Prone to leakages of radiations 

Difference between Light and Electron Microscopes

  1. The illuminating source in the light microscope is visible light while that of an electron microscope is a beam of electrons.
  2. The resolving and magnification power of a light microscope is 0.2 µm and 1000 times while that of an electron microscope is 0.001 µm and 10,000,000 times.
  3. Projection screen and glass lenses are used in light microscope while the fluorescent screen and an Electromagnetic screen are used in an electron microscope.
  4. The light microscope is able to obtain colored images of both living and dead cells while electron microscopes provide black and white color for dead cells only.
  5. The energy consumption in the electron microscope is quite high when compared to the light microscope.
  6. An electron microscope used tungsten filament which increases the risk of radiation leakage while a light microscope does not have a filament.
  7. The light microscope is simple to handle and easy to acquire while the electron microscope is not easy to operate and very expensive to acquire.
  8. An electron microscope is an extremely expensive instrument whereas a light microscope is quite affordable 
  9. The size of a light microscope is comparatively smaller while that of an electron microscope is comparatively larger
  10. Light microscope provide colored images whereas an electron microscope provides black and white images
  11. The natural color of objects can be visualized in a light microscope whereas cannot be visualized in an electron microscope
  12. Color imparting dyes are used in the light microscope for staining while the electron microscope uses heavy metals for staining
  13. The image can be observed by naked eyes under a light microscope whereas image cannot be observed by naked eyes under the electron microscope 
  14. Preparation of specimens for the light microscope is quite simple whereas the preparation of specimens for the electron microscope is tedious and complex
  15. The limited resolution of the light microscope is about 200 mm whereas that of the electron microscope is about 0.1 mm
  16. The objective and eyepiece lenses in the light microscope changes the magnification whereas the electric power or electric current changes the magnification of the electron microscope 
  17. Image formation under an electron microscope depends on the electron beams by different regions whereas that of the light microscope depend on differential absorption of light by different regions
  18. The specimen under the light microscope is mounted on a glass slide whereas that of an electron microscope is mounted  on a metallic grid
  19. Focusing under the light microscope is done by adjusting the lens mechanically whereas the electron microscope is done by adjusting the power of the electric current to electromagnetic lenses
  20. All the lenses of the light microscope are made of glass whereas those of the electron microscope are made of electromagnets. 

Similarities between Light and Electron Microscope

  1. Both are used for visualizing small objects that cannot be observed by eyes
  2. Both require specimen preparation by staining 
  3. Both are used in research application 
  4. Both can be used in microphotography
  5. Both follow Abbes law

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In Conclusion

The differences between light microscopes and electron microscopes lie in their principles of operation, magnification capabilities, and the types of specimens they can effectively visualize. Light microscopes use visible light to illuminate specimens, providing a magnification range of up to around 2000 times. They are suitable for observing living cells and tissues, but their resolution is limited by the wavelength of visible light.

On the other hand, electron microscopes utilize a beam of electrons for illumination, allowing for much higher magnification levels, often exceeding 50,000 times. This increased magnification results in significantly enhanced resolution, enabling the visualization of structures at the subcellular and molecular levels. However, electron microscopes require a vacuum environment, making them unsuitable for studying living specimens.

Light microscopes are generally more accessible, user-friendly, and versatile for routine laboratory use, while electron microscopes are specialized instruments used for detailed and high-resolution imaging of intricate structures. In summary, light microscopes are suitable for general biological observations, whereas electron microscopes provide unparalleled magnification and resolution for detailed examinations of ultrastructural features.

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