Almost everyone is familiar with caffeine, and most of us have taken it with or without knowing it. Foods containing caffeine often go unrecognised, making the task of limiting intake of the stimulant challenging. But have you ever wondered about how caffeine would look underneath a microscope? Of course your question at the time taking for example your cup of coffee would have been “will it help me through the day?”
Generally, most people assume that hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, nicotine are the most addictive of their kind when in fact, they aren’t. While the addictive properties in these drugs are intense, potency isn’t the only factor that plays into addiction; availability and frequency of use are important too.
When caffeine enters the brain, Dopamanergic signaling from midbrain regions like the ventral tegmentum area are responsible for this “do it again” signal. Caffeine indirectly causes the release of dopamine, but the pleasure effect comes from the indirect release of opioids caused by neurons with dopamine receptors.
So why take micrographic pictures of caffeine? The idea of these micrographs came from the same idea as described this early publication you can read here: “Crystals that will ease your pain”. While elaborating further on this idea I created several more micrographs of medicine, drugs, food adjectives and even tears. And since caffeine is a widely used (natural) substance that is also used as a food Adjective, it came natural too also add its results to the project.
The First results
This image is the result of the first try of crystallising 100% caffeine powder. The Caffeine powder was added to demineralised water and heated in a water bath to 100°C. After this first step large drops of the sample where placed on a slide, within 45minutes the drops where fully crystallised and ready be imaged.
Caffeine crystals; formed out of 100% caffeine powder dissolved in demineralised water, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope with an Berek filter.
The large image above is a shot made out of 25+ images, these images where shot in a comprehensive grid covering only a part of the sample. The images where later stitched together in digital post production. The total resolution of the image above is about 100+ mega pixels. Below a cropped (100%) part of the image showing you the beautiful details, structures & colours of the crystals that where formed by the caffeine.
Caffeine crystals; formed out of 100% caffeine powder dissolved in demineralised water, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope with an Berek filter. (100% zoom of above image)
So next time you take one of the world’s most addictive drug, envision this microscopic molecule working its magic in your body.
There are a large number of painkillers available from the weakest aspirin to the strongest oxymorphone. Each works in a different way. Most people only need to take painkillers for a few days or weeks at most, but some people need to take them for a long time.
Painkillers can be taken by: mouth as liquids, tablets, or capsules, by injection, or via the rectum for example, suppositories. And some are even available as a creams or an ointment.
So why take micrographic pictures of pain medication?
Behind every used painkiller there is a story. Stories of the people taking their pain medication, but most of these stories are of course no happy stories. One day a few years back, I did not have a happy story, and I was bound for a long time taking strong pain medication.
During this period I was not really able to do my normal photography work. So I found back some old moleskins, and went trough all my notes. One think popped-up several times “Micrographs”. Combining my “two” passions; science and photography.
As an licensed medical laboratory analyst, I saw lots of beautiful things underneath the microscope when I was working at the RIVM. Capturing these moments in a form of art was always a wish.
So I started to build a setup that would enable me to go back to this “happy place”. Getting to know the world in a different way, by using things we “consume” in our “daily” life, but putting them underneath a microscope. Creating images “from another world” with a different perspective. Where structures, shapes, patterns, details, colours an many other things will (hopefully) make you look astonished.
After a lot of research about possibilities (within the available budget), I found my starting setup. A Novex B microscope that was able to show me some of the worlds within microscopy.
By “modding” this microscope I could use the techniques like; bright-field, cross polarised, dark-field, phase contrast and oblique illumination.
A few weeks later the setup arrived, and the first thing that popped-up in my mind, was to try and see if I can make the medicine I was taking visible. But unfortunately that first step of making the particular medication visible by trying to crystallise it failed.
So where to start?
Like the introduction almost everyone has taken some painkillers in there life, so we can all relate to these medicine. The most common OTC (over the counter) pain medications are aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, diclofenac & naproxen. So starting with these 5 painkillers would be a good start.
The First results
In the last months I have been experimenting allot to get the best results in therms of how to crystallise and capture these 5 OTC pain medications. I can happily report that I have managed to get beautiful micrographs of aspirin, acetaminophen & diclofenac.
Diclofenac crystals after waiting for 72 hours, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope.
Diclofenac crystals after waiting for 72 hours, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope. (100% zoom of above image)
Acetaminophen crystals after waiting for 3 hours, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope.
Acetaminophen crystals after waiting for 3 hours, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope. (100% zoom of above image)
Aspirin crystals after waiting for 1 hour, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope.
Aspirin crystals after waiting for 1 hour, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope. (100% zoom of above image)
Work in progress:
Hopefully in the future I will be able to make ibuprofen & naproxen visual. This so my goal of having an exposition with these OTC pain medications can be realised, among the other legal and non-legal medication I would love to categorise and make visual.
So next time you take one of the world’s most popular painkillers aspirin, diclofenac or acetaminophen, envision this microscopic molecule working its magic in your body.
A TED talk at TEDxAmsterdam about Imaginarium of Tears. "How do tears turn in to art?"
With this blogpost, I hope to give you a bit more basic insights on who I'm and how Micrograph Stories and Imaginarium of Tears evolved to what it's today.