Microscopes are tools for exploring the world of the very small. Cells, germs, bacteria and other scientific discoveries were made with microscopes, which magnify objects thousands of times and are widely used in biological and medical research. Casual users who occasionally look at a specimen slide for its novelty have little to fear. Most health problems result from prolonged usage by people who peer into their microscopes hour after hour. Proper handling procedures can minimise most hazards.
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Awkward arm positions and poor posture cause musculoskeletal disorders with pain in the shoulders, back, arms, neck or wrists. About 80 per cent of full-time microscope users report such pain, and about 20 per cent of them miss work at some point, according to Microscopy U. Constantly making repetitive hand movements to adjust the microscope can cause repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Microscope workstations that adjust to the user can reduce those injuries.
Long hours at a microscope without a break, bad lighting and pre-existing eye conditions contribute to eye strain. Taking breaks combats both eye and posture fatigue. Regular short breaks every half hour are better than a few longer breaks. Individuals with uncorrected astigmatism and poor eye coordination should get those conditions treated. It also helps to reduce glare and reflections around work stations, and avoid high contrasts between light levels in the microscope and the room.
Spilling liquids on a microscope may cause electrical short circuits that damage the instrument and give electric shocks to users. Light bulbs that illuminate specimen slides can burn fingers. Let the bulbs cool before replacing them, and unplug power sources before taking a microscope apart.
An electron microscope uses focused beams of electrons instead of light to create magnified images of objects. The electrons create X-rays that can reach users if the microscope's shielding is ineffective. Uranium and other radioactive substances used in specimen slides for electron microscopes are another radiation source. The radiation on slides is only dangerous if ingested or inhaled, so gloves should be worn to avoid contaminating hands.
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