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Mechanized versus Manual -- Mechanized!

Mark A. Hurt MD



How do you move glass slides on your microscope stage? There are only two ways to do it: a mechanical stage or your fingers. Which is the best method, and why?

I think a mechanical stage is best, and here are my reasons.

To set the context, when I was a resident in pathology, now some 30 years ago, all of us used AO microscopes; none of them contained mechanical stages (they had been removed years before). Anyone who even attempted to attach a mechanical stage was made the object of public scorn in the Department. I have to admit only now that I secretly attempted to attach a mechanical stage to my assigned microscope and was harassed to the point of embarrassment -- so I removed it.

It was not until my fellowship year in the 1980s that I was taught by a person who used the mechanical stage routinely; so, as his student, I adopted the practice, and I use a mechanical stage still to this day. The following is what I have learned from using one:

1. You will need a stage that has short clips to pinch the slide without having to make an extra movement to open the slide holder. By using the short clips, you can simply inset the slide for viewing and slide it out with a quick motion to place it back in the slide folder.

2. A good ceramic stage is preferable to the black painted stage. Nikon once made a fantastic ceramic stage for its scopes in the 1990s; it was silvered, and the slide skimmed along the surface like an ice cube over polished granite. Unfortunately, what passes for a ceramic stage today is woefully inadequate and the slides seem to “stick” on the surface. Perhaps the reader has had a better experience than I.

3. Once you are accustomed to using a mechanical stage, small biopsies are a cinch to scan; furthermore, those AFB stains are less of a problem, because you can now scan them systematically at 40x or higher -- and you won't lose your place in them (a real time saver).

4. Did you know that your mechanical stage can double as a Vernier measurement guide? I have known about it since the 1990s, and it's relatively easy to use. In fact, I learned about it from Kirkham & Cotton, who, in 1984, published a “how to” guide in a letter in the J Clin Pathol ([url="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC498686/pdf/jclinpath00173-0121.pdf"]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC498686/pdf/jclinpath00173-0121.pdf[/url]). The method works best with a mechanical stage. The Vernier measures to the nearest tenth of a millimeter, which is sufficient for most purposes.

I know that there are naysayers who wouldn't dream of ever using a mechanical stage -- and I wouldn't dream of stopping them. However, you might just want to give it a try. If you disagree, I want to learn why.


Kirkham N, Cotton DW. Measuring melanomas: the Vernier method. J Clin Pathol 1984; 37(2):229-230.

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Dr. Phillip McKee


I have always used a mechanical stage and have never been very impressed with the manual technique. It does not allow enough control and in addition, if one wants to dot a feature of particular interest, it is a niightmare trying to keep the slide still. Also, all my life, a case always has had the potential for photography. It is so much easier to control the field and in particular the horizon (to keep it straight) when necessary to take the perfect field. Perhaps the manual technique explains why so many lectures I have attended have had such dreadful pictures with no attempt to have the low power view with a staright epidermis parallel to the upper border. Often it looks as if the lecturer has just thrown the slide on to the microscope and photographed whichever way it landed!!!!!!!!!!!!
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