What Tears Look Like Under a Microscope

Tears Look Like Under Microscope

An unexpected view of different types of human tears as seen under a microscope!

Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher is known for her mind-blowing images of honey bee that she captured in an entirely new light using a powerful scanning electron microscope. In 2010, she published her book of remarkable images including magnified bees’ microscopic structures. These images magnified by hundred or thousand times in size are jaw-dropping. The abstract forms of images are usually not possible to see by the naked human eye.  

Later she again surprised people with startling results of her new project called “Topography of Tears.” Her research was focused on “dried human tears” and with amazing photography skills, she generated an unexpected view of human tears. 

Tears of change, photo © Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

Life offers a roller coaster ride and no one has an option to deny it. Not even Fisher! She started her project on human tears when she was going through several ups and downs in life and suffered many losses. So, she had enough raw materials to start her project on tears. 

What inspired Fisher to work on this research was startling images of honey bee structure as well as images of a fragment of her own hip bone removed during her surgery. It was then realization dawned on her and she said, “everything we see in our lives is just the tip of the iceberg, visually”. 

She was driven by curiosity to know what would tear look like when seen too close in the microscope.

Tears of ending and beginning, photo © Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

She caught one of her own tears on a slide and allowed it to dry. Then she placed the slide on the holder of a standard light microscope. She said that the aerial view of her tears appeared like a landscape when looked down from a plane. In her words, they are like “aerial views of emotion terrain.”

Then she started pondering if all the tears looked the same in a microscope or tears of joy differ from tears of grief. 

So, she decided to compare different types of tears under a microscope and launched her a multi-year photography project. She collected, examined and photographed more than 100 tears from both herself and a handful of other volunteers including a newborn baby.

Onion tears, photo © Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

She divided tears into separate categories based on the origin:

1. Basal tears – Keeps the cornea of our eyes lubricated. They are released continuously in tiny quantities (on average, 0.75 to 1.1 grams over a 24-hour period).

2. Reflex tears – are secreted when dust particles or irritants, like dust, onion vapours or tear gas enter into eyes. 

3. Tears of grief – rolled down your eyes when you are sad or grieving. 

4. Tears of joy – secreted when you are happy. 

5. Psychic tears – triggered by extreme positive or negative emotions.

All types of tears contain a biological substance suspended in saltwater –  it can be antibodies, enzymes like lysozyme that is antibacterial or oil.

Fisher found that different types of tears contain distinct molecules. For instance, emotional tears contain protein-based hormones including the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller – released when you’re under stress. 

But, she said that microscopic structures of tears are mainly crystallized salt. Tear dries in different circumstances and when viewed in the microscope results in dissimilar shapes and formations. 

It is possible that two psychic tears having the same chemical composition can look very different up close. It is because of various factors like viscosity, chemistry, the setting of the microscope, evaporation rate and so on.

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