Fascinating Photos Reveal What Tears Look Like Under a Microscope

Proving that not all tears are alike, Maurice Mikkers showcases their beautiful varieties under a microscope. The Dutch photographer gathered his friends and spent an evening experimenting, asking them to come over and “pick a way they would like to cry.” Participants could choose from cutting onions, eating hot peppers, looking into a fan, or from emotion (like happiness and sadness). Mikkers then captured every shed tear with a micropipet and dispensed them on a slide. The results are a remarkable look at the scientific structure of crying.

There are three basic type of tears–basal, reflex, and psychic. Basal tears keep the eye lubricated, while reflex tears are triggered by irritants such as allergies. Psychic tears, which are perhaps the most well known, relate to profound emotion, like when you cry during a sad film. They're all composed of ingredients like oils, antibodies, and enzymes that are suspended in salt water.

Mikkers's photographs reveal a visual distinction between the types of tears. Cutting an onion yields a different result than what's produced by laughter or grief – their crystallized arrangements vary in density and pattern. But despite the origin, each image features incredibly intricate details that mimic elements of nature, like pine needles, snowflakes, and tree leaves. These intriguing similarities are a fantastic reminder of our intimate connection to this Earth.

Basal Tear

Reflex Tear

Psychic Tear

Basal Tear

Reflex Tear

Psychic Tear

Reflex Tear

Psychic Tear

Reflex Tear

Reflex Tear

Reflex Tear

Maurice Mikkers: Website | Medium
via [Lost At E Minor]

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met and Manager of My Modern Met Store. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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