What is an inverted microscope used for?

When it comes to observing specimens, we’re used to peering down on them from above. But is that always the best approach? 

Sometimes, the most detailed and revealing views can be found by observing from below.

Enter the inverted microscope – a valuable instrument that offers a unique perspective. Top of Form

What are inverted microscopes?

Inverted microscopes work in pretty much the same way as upright microscopes – they just flip your perspective.

The position of the illuminator and objective lenses are simply switched around, so that light now shines down from above, and the objectives are found underneath the stage.

This inverted arrangement offers a few advantages, including the ability to handle larger specimens and the convenience of accessing samples during observation.


Despite their fairly steep cost, inverted scopes are popular in a variety of industries and scientific disciplines.

They are most commonly found in the life sciences, where they’re particularly useful for studying live cell cultures.

They allow scientists to get a better look at samples, especially where the interesting specimens sink to, or grow on, the bottom of their containers. Viewing from below also removes the need for glass slides, allowing living specimens to be observed in a more natural habitat.

They’re also popular in metallurgy, engineering and manufacturing.

They can easily handle large and heavy metallurgical samples, as well as bulky electronic components that would never fit under an upright microscope – handy for both sample inspection and quality control.


Inverted microscopes offer a variety of advantages over traditional microscopes.

  • They allow users to observe live cell cultures or biological samples from below, making it far easier to see specimens that adhere to the bottom of their containers.
  • Samples can be viewed in their containers, cutting down on sample preparation.
  • Specimens can be observed in a more natural and nutrient-rich habitat instead of on a glass slide.
  • The sample containers can be accessed and manipulated during observation.
  • Time lapse observation and imaging is possible.
  • Infectious samples can be observed without opening their containers.
  • The spacious stage can hold large containers, bulky samples and unwieldy electronics.

The objective lenses are also sheltered beneath the microscope stage, preventing any risk of contamination. Plus, for geological or metallurgical samples, the sturdy stage can comfortably hold specimens of up to 30kg.


There are a few disadvantages to inverted microscopes that should be taken into consideration:

  • Cost: Inverted microscopes are generally more expensive compared to upright microscopes.
  • Container interference: Since the light needs to pass through the container, the thickness and refractive index of the container may affect the quality of the image.
  • Issues with DIC and plastic: If you’re planning to use differential interference contrast microscopy along with plastic sample containers, you may run into issues because the polymers in the plastic can depolarize the light and interfere with contrast.
Whether you’re studying cells, tissues or minerals, this innovative tool can help you see the microscopic world in a whole new way.
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