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phase-contrast microscope A type of microscope that is widely used for examining cells and tissues. It makes visible the changes in phase that occur when nonuniformly transparent specimens are illuminated. In passing through an object the light is slowed down and becomes out of phase with the original light. With transparent specimens having some structure diffraction occurs, causing a larger phase change in light outside the central maximum of the pattern. The phase-contrast microscope provides a means of combining this light with that of the central maximum by means of an annular diaphram and a phase-contrast plate, which produces a matching phase change in the light of the central maximum only. This gives greater contrast to the final image, due to constructive interference between the two sets of light waves. This is bright contrast; in dark contrast a different phase-contrast plate is used to make the same structure appear dark, by destructive interference of the same waves.
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