“Crystals that will

ease your pain!”

Almost everyone is familiar with painkillers, and most of us have taken them. But have you ever wondered about how they would look underneath a microscope? Of course your question at the time taking that painkiller would have been “will it ease my pain?”

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, colors 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 crystalize 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 polarized light microscope. (100% zoom of above image)

Acetaminophen crystals after waiting for 3 hours, made visible by using a cross polarized light microscope.
Acetaminophen crystals after waiting for 3 hours, made visible by using a cross polarized light microscope. (100% zoom of above image)

Aspirin crystals after waiting for 1 hour, made visible by using a cross polarized light microscope.
Aspirin crystals after waiting for 1 hour, made visible by using a cross polarized 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.


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