The Function Of The Mechanical Stage Of A Microscope

The mechanical stage (or glide) is the device which is mounted on a microscope stage, holding a slide in position and making it possible to maneuver.

The Function Of The Mechanical Stage Of A Microscope

Microscopes with a mechanical stage allow the slide to make a smooth transition from side to side and back and forth. 

The possibility of a microscope being maneuvered in these directions helps the user achieve optimal scanning of their specimen. This is important because it fine-tunes the specimen’s movement through the field of view. 

What Are The Benefits Of A Mechanical Stage?

Because of the ability of a mechanical stage to move in both horizontal and vertical directions, it allows the user to accurately place their slide in the position they want.

Unlike simpler microscopes which only feature stage clips which secure the slide to the stage, the maneuverability of a mechanical stage gives the user the ability to find specific structures easily on their slide. 

The other benefit of using a mechanical stage is its precision. As opposed to using simpler microscopes which feature stage clips, there is no need for pressure to be applied to the stage, which could cause the image of a specimen to move out of focus. 

Mechanical stages are also far more precise because they take the manual movement of slides using the user’s own hands out of the question.

It is almost impossible to execute precise slide movements using just fingers and therefore using a mechanical stage grants the user far more control over the specimen. 

Using a mechanical stage provides the user with a method of systematically scanning the slide so that the whole of their specimen can be observed.

This is especially beneficial when using a higher level of magnification, as the specimen within the slide can be moved using only slight changes in direction. 

Other Types Of Stages

Compound Microscope Stage 

A compound microscope stage is manipulated simply by moving it upwards or downwards or adjusting the microscope. It contains clips which hold the slide in place.

The main form of adjustment performed by a compound stage is the adjustment of focus by the microscope, performed by twisting the coarse and fine adjustment controls which increase and decrease detail levels. 

Stereo Microscope Stage

The stages of stereo microscopes are incredibly basic. Essentially, the stages make up the base of the microscope. Lighting from the microscope is not needed because the object being observed is best lit from above.

Instead of moving the stage to focus the microscope, the head is simply moved up and down. These microscopes are usually used for examining larger objects.

The Components Of A Mechanical Stage

The mechanical stage of a microscope contains several different components which perform different functions. Below you will find a description of each of these parts:

  • Stage lock control – This is used when the microscope user needs to fix the rotation and condenser axis of the stage in a position to prevent movement after the image has been focused. 
  • Slide holder – The slide holder allows users to observe their specimens by holding the slides securely and preventing any unwanted movement during observation. It also allows the slide to be moved smoothly during observation to explore different areas of the specimen.
  • Stage Opening – This is the area of the stage which makes it possible for light to pass through the specimen for better observation.
  • Graduated Locator Markings – This allows the user to take note of specific locations concerning the specimen. Graduations are positioned on the top right of the mechanical stage. This feature allows the user to take note of significant areas and easily find these again for further observation. 

How To Use A Mechanical Stage On A Microscope

How To Use A Mechanical Stage On A Microscope

There are several different things to consider when first using a mechanical stage. This particular type of stage gives users far more control when observing their specimens.

Due to the ability to move the stage on an X and Y axis, the user is left with a far easier and more efficient viewing experience. 

X-Y Stage Adjustments

To perform X-Y adjustments, the knobs which hang from the stage in the right-hand corner of the device must be located.

After the user has adjusted the focus of their microscope to the clearest level of magnification, they can then go ahead and use the X and Y scanners to explore the specimen from different angles. 

The X knob is responsible for moving the stage from right to left, whereas the Y knob moves the stage back and forth. This allows the user to easily explore the different areas of the specimen. 

After the user has completed viewing the specimen, they can then use the graduated locator markings on the top right-hand side to take note of the significant areas of their specimen. 

Focus Adjustments

Mechanical stages traditionally have knobs for vertical and horizontal axis maneuverability. The vertical focus can be shifted by the coarse and fine adjustment knobs.

Users must begin with the stage lowered to its furthest point, before slowly raising it using the coarse focus knob until it reaches its clearest image. The fine focus knob can then be used to fine-tune the image for even further clarity. 

Where Is The Mechanical Stage Located?

The mechanical stage is the platform located just below the observation lenses. To allow light to illuminate the specimens, there is a hole positioned in the center. The specimen slide then rests on the stage and is held in place by the slide holders. 

Types Of Slide Preparations

In regards to preparing a slide for inspection, there are several different methods for preparing different samples. 

The most common method of preparation for observing a specimen is the dry mount technique. This involves simply placing the specimen at the center point of the slide and then placing the cover slip over it. 

Another method of observing specimens is preparing a wet mount. These are used for aquatic samples. The specimens are placed in water and other liquids for observation.

To prepare a wet mount, fluid is placed in the slide before adding the specimen, afterward the cover of the slide is placed over it and additional water is cleared up with a paper towel. 

Squash slides are another method for observing specimens. These types of slides are performed by preparing a wet mount for the specimen and then placing a lens tissue over the glass.

This is carefully pressed down, to avoid damaging the specimen, and the surplus water is released. 

History Of The Microscope

The microscope was created at the end of the 16th century. During the second world war, many relevant pieces of information regarding its invention were destroyed, leaving its history fairly elusive.

Galileo Galilei is known as the person responsible for perfecting what we would today call the first working microscope. 

In Italy during the 17th century, the microscope was used by philosophers seeking to learn more about the natural world.

The capacity this early microscope held for capturing microscopic specimens, however, was incredibly limited. It was not until the 19th century that significant improvements were made. 

Technical improvements in regards to microscope manipulation and optical enhancement were made during the 19th century, leading to breakthroughs and discoveries.

Previous issues concerning chromatic and spherical aberration were also solved. The microscope saw its widest use yet, being an integral piece of equipment across various disciplines, including medicine, geology, biology, and paleontology. 

Less is known about the history of the microscope during the 20th century, however, we know that the first electron microscope was invented by Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska.

Electron microscopes provide images of small particles. It was not, however, until 1981 that specimens could be observed from an atomic level. 


Most intermediate microscopes do not contain mechanical stages. When conducting a detailed exploration of a specimen, microscopes with a mechanical stage are integral in allowing users to explore a specimen from different angles with ease.

Far more precise than microscopes with stage clips, mechanical microscopes provide an accurate and user-friendly experience without any concerns of having to perform manual slide movements using hands.

As a result of their X and Y-axis adjustments, users have far more control over their specimens, giving an overall better experience. 

Jennifer Dawkins

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