The uniqueness of tears

I recently came across a fascinating article where photographer Maurice Mikkers displayed a series of stunning photographs showing delicate pieces with intricate patterns such as those seen on frozen bubbles, snowflakes and bacteria. What did the photographs depict though?


These impressive photographs in fact show human tears like they have never been seen before. Each small disc is an individual tear droplet that has been collected and pipetted onto a glass slide, where it has been left to evaporate and then been photographed using dark field microscopy. The result is an impressive, white pattern formed by the crystallised salts left behind from the briny fluid. Each pattern is unique and is redolent of beautiful snowflakes under a high magnification!

Scientifically, tears are divided into three types based on their origin:

  • Basal tears- In healthy mammalian eyes, the cornea is continually kept nourished and wet by basal tears, which lubricate the eye and help to keep it clear of dust. Some of the substances in these tears, such as lysozyme, form part of our bodies immune system and help fight against bacterial infection. Lysozyme does this by dissolving a layer in the outer coating of certain bacteria.
  • Reflex tears- This results from irritation of the eye by foreign particles, or from the presence of irritant substances such as pepper spray, tear gas or onion vapours. These reflex tears attempt to wash out irritants that may have come into contact with the eye.


  • Psychic tears- This is crying or weeping as a result of strong emotional stress, anger, suffering, pleasure, physical pain or mourning. Tears instigated by emotions have a different chemical make-up than those for lubrication, where they contain more protein-based hormones such as prolactin and a neurotransmitter called leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress.






onionsIt has been tested that every tear has a different viscosity and composition, where all tears contain oils, antibodies and enzymes, and that it is just this varied make-up that gives a uniqueness and ensures a radically dissimilar shape for each tear. So two psychic tears with the exact same chemical make-up can look very different up close, and these will both be completely disparate to a reflex or basal tear. Incredible!

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