If you buy a microscope for the home what level of detail would one be able to see?
It depends on the power of the microscope an the skill you have in preparing slides.
Around 150x, good slide prepartion becomes crucial.
a quick search on google reveals many guides to building your own Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). If you do attempt such a feat the following books might be helpful;
- Lewis et al. "Student Scanning Tunneling Microscope" Am. J. Phys, 59(1), 38-42. (1991)
- Pohl, "Some Design Criteria in Scanning Tunneling Microscopy", IBM J. Res. Dev., 30(4), 417-427, (1986)
- Binning & Rohrer, "Scanning Tunneling Microscopy" IBM J. Res. Dev., 30(4), 355-369, (1986)
- Binning & Smith, "Single-Tube Three-Dimensional Scanner for Scanning Tunneling Microscopy", Rev. Sci. Instrum. 57(8), 1688-1689, (1986)
- Sears et al., "A Scanning Tunneling Microscope for Undergraduate Laboratories", Computers in Physics Jul/Aug, 427-430, (1990)
I believe that a home made STM can be made for about $100 and should provide atomic resolution.