The Optical Microscopy Course Kit takes students through 10 lab units, covering various topics in imaging and microscopy.
Optical Microscopy Course Educational Kit
Designed for Educational, Demonstration, and Classroom Use
Complete Kit Includes All Necessary Hardware Except Computer
Extensive Manual, Lab Notes, Course Notes, and Instructor Notes Guide Students and Teachers Through Full Quarter- or Semester-Long Course
Choose from Educational Kits Containing Imperial or Metric Components
Optical Imaging Basics
Abbe Theory of Image Formation
Spectra and Filters
The Optical Microscopy Course Kit contains components, documentation, and software for a full undergraduate course in optical microscopy. During the course, students build and operate a modular microscope in order to learn about image formation, resolution, aberrations, conjugate planes, and more. The course also introduces students to several imaging techniques such as darkfield, phase contrast, and fluorescence microscopy.
Extensive teaching materials are provided with this kit, including: Lab Notes, which guide students through procedures and exercises with the equipment; Course Notes, which detail the underlying scientific principles; and Instructor Notes, which provide useful tips for administering the course.
Thorlabs Educational Products
Thorlabs' line of educational products aims to promote physics, optics, and photonics by covering many classic experiments, as well as emerging fields of research. Each educational kit includes all the necessary components and a manual that contains both detailed setup instructions and extensive teaching materials. These kits are being offered at the price of the included components, with the educational materials offered for free. Technical support from our educational team is available both before and after purchase.
About the Kit
Thorlabs' Optical Microscopy Course Educational Kit takes students through a quarter- or semester-long microscopy course covering optical properties, imaging techniques, and microscope design. It includes a modular, open optical rail upon which students assemble and align an infinite-conjugates microscope.
Optics The students assemble the microscope components on the rail, gaining hands-on experience regarding the importance of position and alignment. The critical optics include:
Plano-Convex Collector Lens, f = 35 mm
Achromatic Condenser Lens, f = 50 mm
Achromatic Objective Lens, f = 25 mm
Achromatic Tube Lens, f = 200 mm
A custom resolution target is provided for teaching Abbe theory and Fourier optics. The features on the target are chrome coated and include a Siemens star, Ronchi rulings, USAF 1951 and NBS 1963A bar sets, interdigitated lines, postitive- and negative-mask holes, a distortion grid, and concentric circles.
Click to Enlarge Schematic of All Critical Microscope Components for Köhler Illumination
Digital Imaging The students use two cameras during the course: a monochrome camera for imaging the sample and a color camera for imaging the objective back focal plane. The cameras were chosen such that image sampling is above the Nyquist frequency when using the objective lenses in this kit. See the Specs tab for details on these cameras.
Illumination Once the students build sufficient understanding of fundamental optical properties, they set up Köhler illumination; the layout is illustrated in the image to the right. The students use this setup for the majority of the course to investigate coherent and incoherent illumination, aberrations, and the effects of exposure and gain settings on the quality of the final image, especially on image contrast and resolution. This setup is ideal for teaching the Abbe theory of image formation, a central element of the course.
Imaging Modes The kit primarily uses brightfield imaging. In the later labs of the course, students investigate darkfield, phase contrast, and fluorescence microscopy. Optics are provided to enable these lessons, including a zero-order blocking mask, a Nikon 10X phase contrast objective, and a set of fluorescent calibration microscope slides. Note that the kit is designed for educational purposes and not for scientific use in any of these imaging modes without substantial modifications to the assembly.
The students engage in weekly lab sessions where they gain experience using different imaging methods. A summary of the main topics covered in the course is provided below.
Optical Imaging Basics
Students begin by learning the basics of light waves, optics, and imaging. They become familiar with wave properties and the behavior of light, giving them an understanding of diffraction, image formation, resolution, and aberrations. The lab sections guide students as they set up a digital camera and spectrometer to measure the focal length of a lens, spectra of several light sources, and resolution of the system. From the beginning, the course emphasizes safe handling procedures for delicate equipment, as well as proper documentation for lab write-ups.
The kit then leads students through the setup of controlled Köhler illumination to provide bright, uniform illumination to the sample. The students examine how each component in the system can be adjusted to alter the resulting image, including the angle of illumination and the numerical aperture of the objective. They also learn about conjugate planes and where images form within the microscope system.
Left: 150 lp/mm Test Target Grid Pattern; Right: Corresponding Diffraction Pattern in the Objective Back Focal Plane. As part of the lab on Abbe theory, students spatially filter diffraction patterns in the back focal plane in order to modify the resulting image.
Abbe Theory of Image Formation
Making use of two cameras, the students observe both the sample plane and the objective back focal plane at the same time. Abbe theory draws from Fourier optics and explains how manipulation of the diffracted orders in the back focal plane impacts the resulting image of the sample. These exercises lead the students into an exploration of different contrast methods.
The students deepen their understanding of Abbe theory and the modulation transfer function, as well as the effects of coherent versus incoherent illumination. They also build on their experience manipulating the diffracted orders of light in the back focal plane to set up darkfield and phase contrast imaging and use them to image transparent objects. These experiments allow students to gain more familiarity with conjugate planes, consider resolution and contrast in more detail, and develop intuition about how image information is distributed in the back focal plane of the objective.
Students learn about fluorescence imaging, an immensely important tool in modern biology. They gain familiarity with the nature of fluorescence excitation and emission, and use appropriate interference filters to implement fluorescence imaging and investigate different samples.
Spectra and Filters
The final lesson provides a deeper exploration of spectra. Students continue working with spectrometers, examining the behavior of different types of filters and the limitations of interference filters. This section also includes a detailed, spreadsheet-based problem set in which students learn the highly practical skill of choosing quantitatively the optimal filters for imaging with a given fluorophore, camera, and light source.
Left: Brightfield Image of Cellulose Paper Fibers; Right: Fluorescence Image of the Same Fibers, Stained with Rhodamine-Type Fluorescent Dye from a Standard Highlighter. Students prepare their own samples for fluorescence imaging as well as phase contrast imaging using items provided in the EDU-OMC1(/M) kit.
Note: This kit uses an open-rail setup that is advantageous for educational purposes; however, it requires the room to be darkened when operating in low-light imaging modes such as darkfield and fluorescence microscopy.
Note: The labs require a computer, which is not included with the kit. See the table below and the Software tab for PC requirements and information on the applications used during the course.
Windows® 7 or 10
Three USB 2.0
Recommended 24" or Larger
A computer is not included with the kit.
See the Software tab for more information on the applications used during the course and for additional PC requirements.
Measured by focusing the output beam after the ACL5040U condenser lens onto a thermal power sensor with a previous generation MPD508762-90-P01 protected silver off-axis parabolic mirror.
We strongly recommend wearing gloves (such as our latex or cotton gloves) when replacing the bulb in order to prevent skin oils from being deposited on the glass. If you suspect the bulb is dirty, carefully clean it with alcohol before connecting to power.
Color temperature will vary from unit to unit.
CMOS Sensor Type
Read Out Mode
1280 x 1024 Pixels
Optical Sensor Format
Pixel Clock Rangeb
5 - 43 MHz
5 - 40 MHz
Frame Rate, Freerun Modec
Lens Mounting Thread
CS-Mount (1.00"-32, 6.3 mm Deep)d
Post Mounting Thread
1/4"-20 Tap, 7 mm Deepe
Dimensions (H x W x D)
48.6 mm x 44 mm x 25.7 mm (1.91" x 1.73" x 1.01")
0.07 lbs (32 g)
CS-Mount to External SM1, CS-Mount to Internal SM1, CS-Mount to C-Mountf, 1/4"-20 to 8-32, and 1/4"-20 to M4
This previous-generation item is not available for individual purchase.
Depends on the PC hardware used.
Requires maximum pixel clock frequency.
Please note that CS-Mount and C-Mount lens mounts both use 1.00"-32 threads but feature different flange-to-sensor distances.
Be careful not to thread a screw longer than the depth of the tap into the camera housing, as this could lead to damage.
The included CS to C-Mount adapter is not anodized. The black anodized CML05 adapter is available as a replacement or substitute.
These specifications are valid only when the spectrometer is used with the included fiber patch cable.
The spectrometer cannot be amplitude calibrated below 380 nm.
A large difference in the relative response of the system from the UV to the visible inhibits reliable power readings in the UV when performing broadband measurements. Features in the UV may still be visible with the use of a bandpass or shortpass filter to prevent saturation at longer wavelengths.
The software allows an integration time up to 60 s. Integration times greater than 10 s may drastically increase hot pixels and noise.
Assembled Kit Physical Specifications
8" x 36" (200 mm x 900 mm)
<12" (<300 mm)
From Table Surface
Optical Microscopy Educational Kit Components
Thorlabs' Optical Microscopy Course Educational Kit is available in imperial and metric versions. In cases where the metric and imperial kits contain parts with different item numbers, metric measurements are indicated in parenthesis.
Several items included with the kit are consumables, such as microscope slides and cover glass. For replacements of any consumable items below, please contact Tech Support.
Abbe's Experiments Video Playlist (Click the numbered links or the three horizontal bars to see all videos in the playlist.)
The Abbe's Experiments video series, created by and provided courtesy of Dr. Peter Evennett, gives an excellent explanation of the Abbe theory of image formation, covered in Labs 6 and 7 of the course. The series consists of 9 videos:
Links to sources referenced in the Lab Notes, Course Notes, and Instructor Notes can be found here. Please help us maintain this section by reporting missing or broken links on the Feedback tab, where you can also post technical questions or user comments about this kit.
Click on the images below to download the course materials.
*Note: An abridged version of the Instructor Notes is available for download. The full version is included on the USB stick shipped with the kit or available by contacting Tech Support.
CMOS Camera Software
The ThorCam™ software is used to control Thorlabs' CMOS cameras.
ThorCam is a powerful image acquisition software package that is designed for use with our cameras on 32- and 64-bit Windows® 7 or 10 systems. This intuitive, easy-to-use graphical interface provides camera control as well as the ability to acquire and play back images. Single image capture and image sequences are supported. Application programming interfaces (APIs) and a software development kit (SDK) are included for the development of custom applications by OEMs and developers. The SDK provides easy integration with a wide variety of programming languages, such as C, C++, C#, and Visual Basic .NET. Support for third-party software packages, such as LabVIEW, MATLAB, µManager, and MetaMorph, is available.
See the Videos tab for a quick guide to the ThorCam software.
The OSA application package is used to control Thorlabs' CCS Series Spectrometers.
Thorlabs' CCS Series Spectrometers are controlled by our Optical Spectrum Analyzer (OSA) software package. In addition to the software package, a Communications Protocol manual is also available to provide a guide for writing custom applications to control the spectrometers. Please note that this software package is not compatible with Windows XP; for more information about using a spectrometer with Windows® XP, please contact Tech Support.
See the Videos tab for a quick guide to the OSA spectrometer software.
The course also uses ImageJ, which can be downloaded here, and the Slanted Edge MTF plugin, which can be downloaded here.
Daniel Fletcher, Ph.D.
Neil Switz, Ph.D.
This kit grew out of the Practical Optical Microscopy course developed at the University of California, Berkeley by Neil Switz and Daniel Fletcher. We cordially thank them for making their class materials freely available to the optics community, and for their extensive collaboration in developing this kit. Their contributions have helped facilitate and simplify the provision of rich laboratory experiences in the undergraduate optics curriculum.
Neil Switz received his Ph.D. in biophysics from UC Berkeley. He has industry experience engineering medical gas monitoring systems and starting a publicly listed microfluidics and fluorescence imaging-based biotechnology company. Neil has won multiple awards for teaching, and is now on the physics faculty at San José State University.
Dan Fletcher received his D.Phil. from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is now Chair in the Department of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley and continues to teach courses on optics, microscopy, and cell mechanics. He and his laboratory perform research on the membrane and cytoskeletal structures that animate cell movements.
Do you have ideas for an experiment that you would like to see implemented in an educational kit? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to hear your ideas.