Imaginarium of Tears: A Teardrop Photography Collection

February 26, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Microscope images of crystallized tear drops
Photo credit: Courtesy of Maurice Mikkers ( Image has been cropped

“Every tear is as unique as a snowflake.”

Sometimes you just need a good cry.  But did you know there are actually three different types of tears?  Basal (what keeps the eye wet), reflex (from eye irritation) and emotional, whether it be from happiness, sadness, pain or anger.

All tears consist of water, lipids, glucose, mucin, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, urea, sodium, potassium, chloride, manganese and lysozyme.  However, there is one exception — emotional tears.  They also contain prolactin, adrenocorticotropic and leucine enkephalin (a natural painkiller).

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Since every tear has a different viscosity and composition, do these compositions vary depending on what you are feeling or experiencing at the time?  And how do they look microscopically?  These are questions former medical laboratory analyst and now professional photographer Maurice Merrick wanted to answer, and that’s why he started his project, the Imaginarium of Tears.

Mikkers got the idea while he was imaging crystals of pharmaceutical drugs and accidentally bumped into a table, stubbing his toe.  This triggered tears of pain, which he immediately captured with a micropipette and dispensed little drops onto a microscope slide — hoping they would crystallize.

Because he was unsure what technique to use to make the tears visible, Mikkers attempted several underneath the microscope.  First he tried was what is called the bright-field technique and then a polarization technique, which gave lovely results, but something was missing.  Finally, he tried a dark-field condenser in his microscope to see what would happen.

And this is what he saw:

Microscope image of crystallized tear drops

Copyright: Maurice Mikkers ( Image has been cropped

After the tears are dispensed on a microscopic slide, the crystallization process takes between 5 and 30 minutes, depending on variables such as humidity, temperature and each person’s unique physiology.  Once they crystallize, the teardrops can be photographed.

Mikkers is now seeking people who are willing to weep on demand for his growing tear collection.  He advises all of his volunteers to have their own crying triggers prepared — for example smelling onions, thinking about a sad movie, or even something that makes  you so happy it brings you to tears.  It is completely up to the volunteer.

All crystallized tears look different from the next, but there are no obvious markers that could identify who produced it.  “Every tear is as unique as a snowflake,” said Mikkers in a TEDxAmsterdam talk.

Art knows no bounds! See more of Mikker's collection at

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