CELL SIZE AND SCALE

CELL SIZE AND SCALE

Some cells are visible to the unaided eye

The smallest objects that the unaided human eye can see are about 0.1 mm long. That means that under the right conditions, you might be able to see an ameoba proteus, a human egg, and a paramecium without using magnification. A magnifying glass can help you to see them more clearly, but they will still look tiny.

Smaller cells are easily visible under a light microscope. It’s even possible to make out structures within the cell, such as the nucleus, mitochondria and chloroplasts. Light microscopes use a system of lenses to magnify an image. The power of a light microscope is limited by the wavelength of visible light, which is about 500 nm. The most powerful light microscopes can resolve bacteria but not viruses.

To see anything smaller than 500 nm, you will need an electron microscope. Electron microscopes shoot a high-voltage beam of electrons onto or through an object, which deflects and absorbs some of the electrons. Resolution is still limited by the wavelength of the electron beam, but this wavelength is much smaller than that of visible light. The most powerful electron microscopes can resolve molecules and even individual atoms.

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