Paper Under A Microscope – What It Looks Like The Procedure And More

Have you found yourself wondering what paper looks like under a microscope? Maybe you want to know more about the procedure of making paper and how this looks under a microscope?

Or are you curious and want to know more? Whatever your reason might be that brought you here today, we are here to help! 

Paper is a material that many of us use in our daily lives, whether it is to scribble down a shopping list, or to unpack a complex equation, paper is sure to be all over your home and office.

Paper Under A Microscope - What It Looks Like The Procedure And More

But what do we know about it and its make up? Sure we know it comes from trees, but is there more to paper than what meets the eye?

Well, that’s what we are here to find out! Just keep reading to find out what paper looks like under a microscope, the procedure to make it, and everything else you need to know about it! 

Background Of Paper Under A Microscope 

Let’s get straight into it! Putting paper under a microscope is a fun and pretty simple experiment to complete! Paper features a network of plant fibers that have been laid to make the flat sheet we know and love.

How it looks can vary depending on the tree used to make the paper. Commonly, fir, larch, and hemlock are used, all creating different types of paper for different uses. 

And since the microscope was invented, we can study paper at a micro-level! We can see the organic and inorganic micro-objects associated with cellulose fibers of books and documents.

We can also see ink, dirt, and other debris that has built up in books and documents over the years. Imagine what you would find putting the pages of an old book under a microscope! 

Researchers have put paper and old books under microscopes to learn more about these papers and the processes used to create them.

This is how we have learned about the aging process (how paper starts to change color and the different smells associated with old paper and books) and how we can identify other micro-objects on or below the paper’s surface. 

Identifying Old Paper 

Recent articles have found that lots of ancient documents have been discovered and dated in the past few decades.

These documents have allowed scientists and archaeologists to identify the time period they were created and how they were made.

Microscopic techniques and other tools have allowed us to do this and learn even more about the origin and evolution of paper. 

Some of these documents were found to be paper as we know it today, whereas other types were a blend of parchment and paper.

It took a lot of careful investigation to identify the fabrics and woods being used in the paper, allowing us to learn more about the manufacturing process and how these ancient papers have been preserved. 

Identifying Paper In Criminology 

In the field of criminology, microscopic techniques are allowing us to analyze and investigate papers and other materials to help with legal cases.

Microscopes have found debris and other materials on paper that can help connect crimes to the perpetrator.

These microscopes will identify evidence that can be invisible to the naked eye. 

A stereoscopic microscope is preferred for criminology and identifying old paper for a range of reasons. Let’s look at these quickly now. 

  • They are easy to use 
  • You can enjoy a wide area of view 
  • You can view the image in both upright and erect positions (true position) 
  • You can observe ridges, furrows, and other indentations that you would miss with other microscopes 
  • You get a long working distance that allowed you to view larger objects with ease 
  • You don’t need to prepare the sample 

Other microscopes like Raman microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, and a combination of optical microscopy and ATR-FTIR spectroscopy are also used. 

Paper Under A Microscope 

Now let’s take a look at how we can conduct an experiment and put paper under a microscope! The aim is to study the different types of paper under a microscope and we are here to walk you through it! 

What You Need 

To complete this experiment, you need the following: 

  • A microscope (stereo and compound) 
  • A pen 
  • Paper samples – ideally different types like printing paper, newspaper, cardboard, and tissue paper 

Before starting the experiment, we recommend labeling each type of paper to help you remember what it is and looks like under the microscope

How To Put Paper Under A Microscope 

Now that you have your equipment you can start the experiment! We will walk you through this, so stick with us and we will cover each step for you!

To start, tear a small piece of paper from each sample.

You need the torn edges to be thinner for the microscope, this allows you to see the exposed fibers.

Trust us, this makes the experiment far more interesting! 

Place each piece of torn paper into separate Petri dishes. We would label or mark these too so that you can keep track of the papers you have put under the microscope.

If you are using a stereo microscope you can pop the paper directly onto the stage for observation.

To put your paper under the microscope and examine it, you can follow the steps below! 

  1. Switch on the light source of your microscope once it is on a sturdy surface. 
  2. For those using a compound microscope, use the stage adjustment knob to lower the stage. 
  3. Next place and center the paper on the stage, with the torn edge under the microscope. You can use stage clips to keep the paper in place and stop it from curling. 
  4. With compound microscopes, put the piece of paper on a glass slide. 
  5. Rotate the turret to set a low objective lens in place – it’s best to start observing the paper with a low magnification first! 
  6. Put your eyes on the eyepiece and start to turn the focus knob gently until the image becomes focused. 
  7. Observe the torn edges of the paper and record what you see. 
  8. Next, switch the magnification to high (as high as it goes) and record what you see again. 
  9. If you want to, you can mark the paper with some ink and see how that looks under the microscope too. 

Observing Your Paper 

Observing Your Paper 

Now that we have shown you how you can look at your paper under the microscope, let’s chat a little more about the process and what you will have seen!

Under low magnification, the fibers of the paper will look threadlike, almost like how cotton looks to the naked eye. But when you switch to a higher magnification, these fibers will become clearer. 

By turning the microscope to 100x or 200x magnification, you will see a clearer image of the fibers.

You can even identify individual fibers with this magnification! These fibers will look different depending on the type of paper you have put under the microscope. 

What’s Used To Make Paper? A Brief History 

Let’s travel back to ancient Egypt to look at the history of paper before you leave us today! A product similar to paper was used then, made with stalks from the papyrus plant.

To do this, the triangular stems were sliced or cut lengthways to create thin boards.

These boards were then pasted together and dried, creating a type of paper that Egyptians used for documentation processes. 

Although this sounds a lot like paper, it is not like the paper that we know today! 

We can trace the history of paper back to the Han Dynasty, around 105 AD. It was invented by Ts’ai Lun who used the fibers from mulberry tree bark to create it!

The process involved creating a pulp from bamboo fibers and the inner bark of mulberry trees. A small amount of flurry is lifted using a silk sieve. 

The sieve is gently shaken to spread the fibers evenly and drain off any excess water.

The fibers are left to settle on a sheet before it is dried in the sun. Now, this process allowed you to make high-quality paper that would stand the test of time!

Ts’ai Lun also experimented with different types of trees, pieces of hemp, fishnets, and more different materials while creating paper! 

It is worth noting here that further archaeological research has been done and found that there was paper before Ts’ai Lun made his creation. But, he is often credited with the invention of paper due to how well documented his process is. 

As time progressed, his technique of creating paper spread to other parts of Asia and it started to change as technology advanced.

The creation of paper mills in the eighth-century Islamic world helped make the process more efficient. 

The technique then moved to Europe, where technology advanced and the paper continued to develop.

In the 19th century, machines like London’s Fourdrinier machine made it possible for long sheets of paper to be created.

These longer sheets could then be cut into smaller pieces of paper depending on the intended use of the paper. 

These days, most paper is made with wood pulp. Cellulose fibers are extracted from various trees and converted into pulp.

Next, the pulp is combined with water before it is added to the papermaking machine which finishes the job for us. 

It’s not just trees that we use to make paper these days either! Cotton and other natural fibers are also used.

These tend to be used for documents that will be archived. Why do we use different materials for archival purposes? Well, these materials will have stronger fibers that can help the paper last for longer periods.

After all, if you are archiving something, you want it to stand the test of time, don’t you?

Final Thoughts 

And there you have it! Paper will look different under the microscope, depending on the type of paper that you use and the material used to make the paper!

Whether you use newspaper, tissue paper, Kraft paper, or other types, they are all sure to look different under the microscope!

Remember to adjust your magnification to see the fibers in closer detail and learn more about your favorite type of paper! 

Be sure to use the steps we outlined above for you to look at paper under the microscope and to label your sample so you don’t get confused. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Still, got some burning questions that we haven’t answered? Or has something popped into your mind now? Then check out our FAQ section below to have them answered before you leave! 

Why Does Paper Change Color As It Gets Older?

Paper changes color and becomes yellow due to oxidation. The more contact the paper has with oxygen, the more cellulose will break down to molecular structures called chromophores.

These molecules can absorb or emit visible light, turning paper yellow as it ages. 

This process can be quite quick or take years, depending on the quality of the paper.

Thin and cheaply made paper like newspaper can oxidize and yellow quickly, in the space of a few days or weeks.

Thicker, higher-quality paper will take longer to yellow, especially if it is preserved its contact with the air is kept to a minimum. 

How Many Types Of Paper Are There?

There are a whopping thirty-five different types of paper! Each of these has different properties, thickness, and lifespan.

You can find most of these types to purchase online or in stores, with the most common being printing paper, tissue paper, glossy paper, and sandpaper. 

Can I Take A Picture Of Paper Under A Microscope?

Yes, you can! If you have a digital microscope, you can take a picture of the paper under the microscope, allowing you to look at the fibers again.

You can use these photos to help write your analysis or include them in any reports you might be doing. 

Most digital microscopes will allow you to save these photographs to your computer too depending on the software that you have. 

Does Paper Decay?

Yes, paper can decay over time. How long paper takes to decompose depends on the type of paper that you have and if it has been saturated with ink or not.

Paper that we use at home and throw in our recycling will take 2 to 6 weeks to compose.

However, paper used for archival purposes that are kept from the light can last for hundreds of years! It is down to what you do with it and how you care for the paper.

Jennifer Dawkins

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