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Our eyes tear up for various reasons. The most common, known as basal, are involuntary tears that are continuously being released to keep the cornea moist. Then there are reflex tears that are shed when eyes are exposed to irritants like dust or onion vapor. And finally, emotional or psychic tears that pour out when one is experiencing extreme happiness or grief.
While all tears comprise of enzymes, antibodies, and oils mixed in with salt water, the composition and viscosity of each kind is unique. In a previous study performed on reflex and emotional tears, scientists discovered that the former comprised primarily of water while the latter included several chemicals, including one that helps reduce pain.
Hence, it would make sense that the tears composed of the same chemicals would look identical even under the scrutiny of a microscope. However, as Dutch photographer Maurice Mikkers recently discovered, that is not the case.
The photographer who said he wanted to relate scientific knowledge to the "real world" began by recruiting friends who were willing to shed some tears for him. The volunteers were free to choose their method to get watery eyed. They could eat hot peppers, gaze into a fan, chop onions or think of something that would incite tears of joy or grief.
Maurice captured each precious tear with the help of a micropipette and deposited them onto a microscope slide. The photographer then patiently waited for the tears to crystallize before capturing them with his camera.
The resulting images depict beautiful, delicate structures that appear as fragile as snowflakes. However, that was not the only trait they shared with the snow particles. They were also all unique. For example, two emotional tears (1st set of images) with an identical chemical makeup looked remarkably different when studied up close. The same was true for the reflex (2nd image) and basal tears (3rd image),
The differences can be attributed to the fact the each tear crystallizes slightly differently leading to disparate shapes and formations. As a result, even though they have an identical chemical makeup, they look extremely different when studied up close.
Although his experiment did not reveal the similarities in the tears within the same category that Mikkers had hoped for, he is hooked. The photographer plans to continue capturing tear images using a higher quality microscope and also dreams about enlisting volunteers that include world leaders. Why? He wants to demonstrate that even the most powerful men and women are just like the rest of us - human!
Whether the photographer fulfills his goals or not, one thing is for sure. Thanks to his captivating images, tears will never again be regarded as mere droplets of salt water!