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What is the difference between magnification and resolving power?

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Quick Answer

In microscopy, magnification refers to the enlargement of the object being studied, while resolving power pertains to the capacity of an optical medium, such as a lens, to distinguish between proximate objects as distinct images. The quality and usefulness of a microscope rely more on resolving power rather than on magnification.

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Full Answer

A microscope is an optical device used in viewing and studying objects that are not visible to the naked eye. The basic parts of a simple type of microscope, called a compound microscope, include the eyepiece, ocular lens, objective lens, revolving nosepiece, stage, condenser, condenser adjustment control, light source, light switch control and adjustment knobs.

One of the fundamental features of a microscope is its ability to augment images. Magnification is provided by a two-lens optical system consisting of the ocular and objective lenses. The ocular lens is located on the eyepiece while the objective lens is attached to a rotating nosepiece. Typically, the nosepiece contains four objective lenses, with each lens corresponding to different levels of magnification. The combined magnification of the ocular and objective lenses is the total linear magnification of a microscope. A compound microscope is capable of enlarging an image from 40 to 20,000 times its original size.

Another basic feature of a microscope is its resolving power, otherwise known as the resolution. The two factors that affect the resolution are the wavelength of the light source and the numerical aperture. Electron microscopes provide better resolution and show more detail compared to light microscopes.

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