Question: What is "immersion oil" for microscopes?

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warren asked on February 16, 2018 15:25
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I've seen some microscopes use "immersion oil" -- like, an oil between the lens and the slide. What's this for and where can I find it? Do all microscopes need it? Can non-oil microscopes use oil or vice versa?

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warren about 1 month ago

@partsandcrafts -- is the oil absolutely required? Like, is it possible to skip this if you don't need the extra... awesomeness? @wmacfarl @kgradow1 @bmela

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2 Answers

Lots of dense info on this here, but I'm not sure for a given lens if you can just add oil or not?

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Glass apparently has a refractive index of ~ 1.5 while air is 1.0. This means that light velocity is slower in glass. When light from a sample slide passes through air to objective lens there is refraction or bending of light away from perpendicular. As a result, some of the light from the specimen is lost and does not enter the aperature of the lens. If you fill the air gap between slide and lens with oil with a similar refractive index as the glass slide (i.e. 1.5) then the light is no longer refracted away from lens. With this effective increased light entering the lens or increase in aperature; resolution of detail in the sample is increased. Yes you can skip it if you have adequate resolution to see the detail in specimen your are interested in.

warren 27 days ago

Wow, thanks! So how close is actually helpful? I found a list of household oils and refractive indices and mineral oil is around 1.47-1.48 -- would that help almost identically or would it be not a lot of help.

Refractive Index List of Common Household Liquids
Liquid  Refractive Index
alcohol, ethyl  1.36
almond oil  1.45-1.47
anise oil   1.54-1.56
Canadian balsam     1.53-1.55
cassia oil  1.58-1.60
castor oil  1.47-1.48
cedar wood oil  1.51
cinnamon oil    1.59-1.62
clove oil   1.53
coconut oil     1.43-1.46
cod liver oil   1.46-1.48
corn oil    1.47-1.48
cottonseed oil  1.45-1.48
eucalyptus oil  1.46-1.47
glycerol (glycerin oil)     1.47
kerosene    1.45
lanolin     1.48
lemon oil   1.47-1.48
linseed oil     1.47-1.49
mineral oil     1.47-1.48
neatsfoot oil   1.47
olive oil   1.44-1.47
palm oil    1.44-1.46
peppermint oil  1.46-1.47
rape seed oil   1.47-1.48
safflower oil   1.47-1.48
sandalwood oil  1.50-1.51
sesame oil  1.47
soybean oil     1.47-1.48
tung oil    1.49-1.52
turpentine  1.47
water   1.33
wintergreen oil     1.54

Editor’s Note: This list was compiled from information provided by Donald Clark, CSM IMG, Dr. Gerald Wykoff, Dr. Clive Washington, Roy Kersey, and others.

dcanprdn 27 days ago

I do not know, but anything would be an improvement; just apply the oil (a bubble connecting slide through air to lens surface) and check the detail of objects in sample I assume. Arbitrarily anything above 1.4 would be pretty good. Amazing you found a list; surprising alcohol so high ?

warren 26 days ago

Awesome, thanks! yes, alcohol is surprising!

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