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The incredible beauty of crying: what your tears look like under a microscope

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Unfortunately, most of the time, when we cry, it's not for a pleasant reason. Maybe we've had an argument with a friend, or a tough day at work, or are just feeling weepy and need to let our feelings out. Crying can make everything better. But did you ever stop to think about those tears we hastily wipe away with our fingers, each drop quickly relegated to a tissue and forgotten about? 

One man did, and the results are beautiful.

Dutch artist Maurice Mikkers, a qualified Medical Laboratory Analyst, decided he needed to use both his creative and technical side after graduating. Now a professional photographer, Mikkers uses his scientific background to explore the mundane - and unearth its hidden beauty. 

After stubbing his toe on day, Mikkers got the idea of examining his tears under microscopic lenses - and the result intrigued him so much, he embarked on a whole series of microscopic tear photos, which he called 'The Imaginarium of Tears'.


In an essay on Medium, Mikkers explained the origin of his project.

"It all started on the 10th of January 2015, when I was working on the crystallisation of Diclofenac. When walking back from the kitchen to my desk with the crystalised Diclofenac slide. I bumped my toe really hard against the table. So while in pain, there was was only one thing on my mind; Capturing the tear rolling down my cheek with a micro pipet. Right after it was captured, I dispensed the tear it into little drops on a microscope slide. Hoping it would maybe also crystallise just like my other subjects and show its true beauty.

"At that moment I had no clue what technique I had to use to make the tear visible. So I tried several light techniques underneath my microscope. The first technique was the bright-field technique (the one you often use in high school). Next up was the polarisation technique (which I was using for myother crystallisation images). Both gave very beautiful and different results, but something was missing. So I installed the dark-field condensor in my microscope to see what it would do.

"I still remember that moment when I was looking trough the microscope, after the the dark-field condensor was installed. I was stunned, the tear lid right up on the dark background. It was shaped like a little planet, and its landscape showed beautiful patterns and shapes. At that moment I was surprised and “hooked” at the same time. And felt like a ‘planet tear'."


Mikkers' fascination with the result led to him vigorously cutting onions to capture more tears, and over the coming weeks, he recruited volunteers to make themselves cry and to see what their tears would look like up close, from a friend whose father was very ill, to his sister, who was feeling frustrated at work.


Speaking to Indy100, Mikkers said that he wanted to see if different types of tears formed differently. But while he found no difference in the tears those whose family members were sick, and those had simply eaten something spicy, every single tear was different "because of the oils, enzymes and antibodies unique to the composition of each tear."


One day, Mikkers would like us all to be able to order a tear kit for our own home use, so we can capture our tears, whether of happiness or sadness.

As he writes, "Hopefully one day I will find a way to give you the option of sending in your tear. Because I believe everyone should be able to share his or her tears. Because tears are stories. And stories connect us on a deeper level. So since everyone has their own story, I hope that I can visualise your story in the near future even if you are not able to donate it on location."


You can read more about Mikkers here, and watch a video of how he conducts the experiments below.



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