What Tears Look Like When You See Them Under a Microscope

What Tears Look Like When You See Them Under a Microscope

People generate tears everyday for a variety of reasons, often without even noticing. Whether triggered by onions, allergies or intense emotion, or just to keep your eyes from drying out, your body produces a myriad of tears — and they all look completely different from each other.

During a time of personal turmoil, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher wondered how tears look close up. So she collected 100 tear samples, all taken under different circumstances, and analyzed them under a microscope. And what she discovered was that each tear portrayed a dramatic miniature landscape.

The project, "The Topography of Tears," captures unique moments in human experience. But there's also a scientific reason why every tear looks so different. There are three different types of tears: basal (lubricating), reflex (responding to stimuli) and psychic (triggered by emotion). Each type of tear contains different organic substances, and the molecular makeup depends on the causative agent. For instance, emotional tears contain the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller that the body releases to mitigate stress.

And even tears caused by the same reason might look different once they crystallize. "There are so many variables — there's the chemistry, the viscosity, the setting, the evaporation rate and the settings of the microscope," Fisher said.

But while the science behind the individuality of tears is fascinating, it is overwhelmed by the poetic power of Fisher's photographs. Each tear is a moment frozen in time, capturing the photographer's physical and mental state forever. "Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series ls like an ephemeral atlas," she writes on her website.

Check out Fisher's photographs below:

1. Basal tears


2. Onion tears


3. Tears of grief


4. "Tears of laughing till I'm crying"


5. "Tears of change"


6. "Tears of timeless reunion"


7. "Tears of ending and beginning"


8. "Tears of momentum, redirected"


9. "Tears of release"


10. "Tears of possibility and hope"


11. "Tears of elation at a liminal moment"


12. "Tears of remembrance"


Image Credit (all): Rose-Lynn Fisher

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

MORE FROM

Scientists say you should play video games on your breaks at work

Somebody file an expense report for an Xbox, pronto.

Apparently scientists didn’t know why rain drizzle happened — until now

Save this science for a rainy day.

19 things Siri can do for you so you can streamline your life

It can help you if you use it the right way.

Employees are getting microchips put in their hands at this US company

They cost $300 a piece, but this U.S. company is about to foot the bill for any employee who signs up.

NASA’s working on quieter supersonic flight, which it wants to help commercialize

What if you could spend less time on a plane to get where you're going?

Scientists say you should play video games on your breaks at work

Somebody file an expense report for an Xbox, pronto.

Apparently scientists didn’t know why rain drizzle happened — until now

Save this science for a rainy day.

19 things Siri can do for you so you can streamline your life

It can help you if you use it the right way.

Employees are getting microchips put in their hands at this US company

They cost $300 a piece, but this U.S. company is about to foot the bill for any employee who signs up.

NASA’s working on quieter supersonic flight, which it wants to help commercialize

What if you could spend less time on a plane to get where you're going?