How to Observe Salt under a Microscope

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teen boy holding up a beaker of salt water and approximating the volume

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I’ve got a mission. I want to help families use their microscopes. Or get microscopes and use them. Who doesn’t want to Make Amazing Observations with a Microscope? How to Observe Salt under a Microscope will help your student build microscope skills.

Because we all want next level microscope skills.

The Purpose of Observing Salt under a Microscope

How to Observe Salt under the Microscope- a set of materials on a table including a picture book called How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
Do you use books with science? In this book, the main character collects salt from the ocean for her apple pie.

Salt seems like a pretty generic thing to view under a microscope.

So, why bother?

Several reasons:

  • Dissolve salt and create a supersaturated solution
  • Evaporate the water and leave the salt crystals behind
  • Prepare the salt crystals for the microscope
  • Observe various salt crystals under the microscope

Salt is easy to prepare and easy to view.

It’s good practice and we can talk about a few other things along the way.

Materials Needed for Observing Salt

How to Observe Salt under a Microscope- three different kinds of salt behind beakers containing water

Now that my students are older, I prefer to use scientific glassware for our science endeavors.

It builds familiarity and it is good practice to separate kitchen supplies from science.

No eating in the lab.

Or from things used in the lab!

  • 2 or 3 different kinds of salt- we used regular table salt, kosher salt, and pink Himalayan salt
  • water- the amount is not super important as long as all the beakers have the same amount
  • beakers or jars- one for each type of salt crystal you will be observing
  • stirring rod or spoon- to stir and help to dissolve the salt in the water
  • measuring spoon- to accurately and consistently measure out the salt for each beaker
  • microscope– a light microscope or a digital microscope. For salt crystals it does not have to be super powerful
  • microscope slides- used for holding specimens under a microscope (like a transparent viewing platform)
  • tweezers- to manipulate the salt crystals from the beakers and onto the slide

How to Prepare for Your Observations

How to Observe Salt under a Microscope- a high school student pour salt into a beaker, with a smile

This is a simple lab activity, but following directions is always important.

You could just grab the salt from the container and throw it under your microscope.

However, since light microscopes require light to pass through the specimen in order for it to be seen well, it’s best to prepare the salt so will allow more light to pass through it.

  • Gather your materials- so they are at hand as you proceed
  • Put water in each beaker or jar- the same amount. For example, you could use the same size beaker and fill each half full (since the amount of water does not need to be exact, just make it the same).
  • Measure the salt- 1 or 2 tbsp is fine
  • Add the salt- to the jars (one type for one jar)
  • Stir the solution- so as much as possible of the salt can dissolve
  • Observe a supersaturated solution- not all of the salt will be able to dissolve
  • Label each container- as you go with the type of salt in each
  • Set aside- and let the water evaporate. This will take several days.
How to Observe Salt under a Microscope- beakers with salt in them left behind from water evaporating
Once the water evaporates, the salt crystals will be left behind.
  • Decant the water- after several days, feel free to pour off some extra water. You’ll lose some salt, but it doesn’t matter.
  • Scrape the dry salt- from the bottom of the container using a pair of tweezers. Be careful not work too hard so that you don’t break the glass container.
  • Place the salt crystals onto a microscope slide- make sure they are not on top of one another
  • View the crystals under the microscope- on both low and high power
  • Draw each sample- under both low and high power

Dissolving the salt in the water and then evaporating the water away changes the shape of the salt crystals, making them flatter and easier to see under a microscope.

If you tried to view them right out of the box, compare what you saw each time.

Make Observations Using a Microscope

How to Observe Salt under a Microscope -teen boy drawing what he sees under a microscope

Now it’s time to work with your microscope. Prepare the salt specimens for the microscope using the procedure below.

  • Gather your materials- so they are at hand as you proceed
  • Put water in each beaker or jar- the same amount. For example, you could use the same size beaker and fill each half full (since the amount of water does not need to be exact, just make it the same).
  • Measure the salt- 1 or 2 tbsp is fine
  • Add the salt- to the jars (one type for one jar)
  • Stir the solution- so as much as possible of the salt can dissolve
  • Observe a supersaturated solution- not all of the salt will be able to dissolve
  • Label each container- as you go with the type of salt in each
  • Set aside- and let the water evaporate. This will take several days.
  • Decant the water- after several days, feel free to pour off some extra water. You’ll lose some salt, but it doesn’t matter.
  • Scrape the dry salt- from the bottom of the container using a pair of tweezers. Be careful not work too hard so that you don’t break the glass container.
  • Place the salt crystals onto a microscope slide- make sure they are not on top of one another
  • View the crystals under the microscope- on both low and high power
  • Draw each sample- under both low and high power
Salt crystal under a microscope
This picture was taken when our digital microscope camera with the microscope light off.

Dissolving the salt in the water and then evaporating the water away changes the shape of the salt crystals, making them flatter and easier to see under a microscope.

If you tried to view them right out of the box, compare what you saw each time.

More Microscope Lessons

a boy at a microscope

Free Microscope Observation Sheets for Subscribers

If you subscribe, you’ll receive this set of observation sheets for use with any microscope lab.

The first is a sheet for a single specimen under low and high power.

The second sheet offers space for four specimens at low and high power- perfect for comparing items such as salt crystals!

Being a subscriber means receiving regular support for your microscope science.

It’s my mission to help families use their microscopes!

Observing salt under a microscope is easy.

The materials are at hand.

It doesn’t take long to set up and get going.

You can use your microscope!

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