THE IMAGINARIUM OF TEARS — TEAR COLLECTION KIT
HOW I MANAGED TO STORE & PRESERVATE TEARS
Since the beginning of the project Imaginarium of Tears, I always struggled with how to store and preserve tears. Tear fluid seemed to loose its “magic” within a few hours after it had been shed. Resulting in different, less, or no crystal structures at al. Speed was of the essence! As soon as a tear was shed, a drop needed to be placed and dried on a microscope slide. This to make sure the “fresh tear fluid” would dry and create beautiful crystalline structures. Only within that small time frame, tears could be visualised and imaged trough a microscope.
2015: Shifting my focus from research to publicity.
At the time Imaginarium of tears started in 2015, I tried to do some quick and simple “research”. Trying out several methodes to store and preserve tear fluid. Even tho I was able to crystallise an image these tears, I was not yet ready and knowledgeable enough to challenge the problem of preserving and storing tears. Besides, at that time I did not have the proper equipment and storage materials.
In that same startup period, Imaginarium of Tears went Viral, something that I was not even expecting in my wildest dreams. The focus shifted from the research, towards expanding the project with more tears and stories. Creating an ongoing photography tear collection, with personal stories at its hart.
The “research” that was needed to overcome these challenges was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, by the time needed to keep up with all the: media requests, trips, interviews, lectures, workshops and exhibitions. These steps eventually let on to the needed knowledge of storing and perserving tears.
During the beginning of Imaginarium of Tears, one question came back many times; Is it also posable to send in tears? Which I unfortunately always had to answer with:
“No, n0t yet! It seems like tear fluid is loosing its “magic” when stored for more then 2 to 4 hours. More research on my end is needed to overcome this storing and preservation challenge. Let us hope, it’s possible in the near future.”
2015 — 2017: Knowledge & experiences
Imaginarium of Tears started in 2015, now 2 years later I have traveled to many places with the project. Seen and processed many unique tears in different challenging environments. All with there own unique touching story.
By crystallising many tears in different environments, I learned that the environment has a huge impact on how the crystallisations where taking place. In colder environments it could take up to 40 minutes, for a tear to crystallise. In a hot and dry environment like Kuwait and Dubai, tears almost instantly started to crystallise on the slide.
Unconsciously, I knew that there must have been a correlation between the different environments and the way a tear formed during its crystallisation proces. The looks of some tears from dry and hot environments had the resemblance as those that where stored too long. Ideas to store and crystallise them in a different controlled environment where discarded. This due to the fact that often there was not enough tear fluid to process it once again.
Many times during the project I had the thought of making or buying a incubator. With this incubator temperature and humidity could be set to fixed values, creating a controlled environment. Buying an incubator would cost me 3000 euro’s or more, not knowing if I would ever get the results I was looking for. So time after time this idea was discarded.
2017: The trigger
In the beginning of this year the idea of a incubator was again tending topic, but this time it would not be discarded. Here is why!
From 6 to 8 April 2017 “Imaginarium of Tears” was part of the REUSE x RISE festival. A three day festival that took place at the Dubai Creek Harbour Promenade. During this exhibition the public had the opportunity to book a Tear Exploration Session, during this session they could explore and see there own tears under a microscope.
We all know that crying on command is hard. While in Dubai, this “psychological barrier” was again been proven. But due to a spontaneous coincidence of circumstances, this barrier gave me, and the “tear preservation research” a new boost. You might be huh?! But let me explain.
Before I went on my trip to Dubai I messaged Janneke, knowing she was working and living for the past two years in Dubai. Since we havent spoken or seen another in a long time, I asked her if she wanted to meet up.
A few weeks later Janneke and I met during the exhibition at Dubai Creek Harbour. Janneke tried to donate her tear to the Imaginarium of Tears project, unfortunately she was not able to shed a reflex, basal or emotional tear. Even with her dedication, no tears where rolling down her cheek that day.
Often when this happens its no surprise to me. Crying on command is hard, even if you are really dedicated. Sometimes even cutting onions, eating a hot pepper, looking directly in to a ventilator is not enough to create a tear.
Since we know each other and would meet up later that day and week, I decided to give her a pipet and a reaction tube. This so she could capture her tears at a later time, in a more relaxing environment without the pressure of the now. Unfortunately Janneke still did not manage to shed a tear during the exhibition schedule in Dubai.
At the end the week when I was packing up the exhibition, Janneke surprised me with a reaction tube full of tears. She managed to squeeze some tears out!
My first thought was “No! What am I going to do, since all my gear is packed and it will take another 2 days before I’m home.” I knew that the chance of imaging her tears, would turn in to a dilemma. Since I was not capable to preserve and crystallising tears for more then 2 to 4 hours after they where shed. Another thought was “Well, I havent tried it in a long time so lets take it home and see what happens.”
2017: New small research steps.
A few days later when I got back home and all gear was unpacked, I decided to give the tear of Janneke a chance. Only this time I was surprised to see that there was actually still something happening during the crystallisation proces. In the beginning of the project when I did research nothing happend in this fase, tears just dried but no proper crystals where formed.
In this case there was still something happening, so I decided to experiment with different temperatures and humidity levels. Four different new slides where created with the same tear fluid, each one holding a single smal drop of 10ul. Each of these four slides was then placed in a different environment;
Slide 1 was placed at Room temperature 20C — 57% humidity
Slide 2 was placed Outside 14C — 51% humidity
Slide 3 was placed in the Fridge 6C — 31% humidity
Slide 4 was placed in the Freezer — 14C — 29% humidity
The tear that was crystallised at room temperature, gave the same result as before. Showing me that there was something going on, but no fully grown crystals.
The one that was placed outside, amazingly showed me beautiful crystal structures! The tear that went into the fridge also gave me some results but not as good as the one from the outside.
The freezer did not work at all, as soon as it got out it fogged up and turned back to a drop, no crystallisation had taken place.
This triggered me to to go back to the drawing board and come up with a more detailed protocol for storing tear fluid & crystallising tears under good temperature and humidity levels.
“Hopefully this research would result in Tear Collection Kit, a kit which can be ordered online to collect tears and stories from people all round the world.”
Having a Tear Collection Kit was one of my biggest dreams since the beginning of Imaginarium of Tears. Due to the recent coincidences, this might now be posable.
2017: Research plan and execution
Since that trigger in April 2017, I have been working a detailed plan and protocol to test out many different things; tear fluid storage, crystallisation methodes and the preservation of crystallised slides.
Without boring you with a too long story, with too many details; here is a small summery.
Finding the Ideal crystallisation environment:
The first thing to figure out is, finding the sweet spot to crystallise tears using the right humidity and temperature. To do this I build a small makeshift incubator. With this makeshift incubator I’m able to change temperature and humidity separate from another.
From earlier tests on the tear of Janneke, it seemed that a temperature between 15 C and 5 C; and a humidity between 30 and 55% should be a good start to experiment with.
To get a large amount of tears I forced myself to excessively yawn. These tears where then used to create slides that where placed in to different temperature and humidity settings. In total I had 6 different temperature levels with each 6 different humidity levels. Resulting in 36 posable options, that needed to be tested.
Eventually I found the sweet spot for the temperature and humidity. With these settings tear fluid crystallised in a consistent way, creating beautiful crystallised structures.
It was not due the age of the tears, the inconsistency of different temperatures and humidity made the tears crystallise differently or not at al. So temperature and humidity played as already expected a major role in the crystallising proces. This explained why tears sometimes in the past did not work out in terms of creating certain expected results when crystallising. With this I could conclude that some tear crystallisations where better (more beautiful and clear structures) then others due to being in the sweet spot with the right temperature and humidity. Another conclusion regarding the preservation of tear fluid that came to mind was; That I was just to inexperienced and unlucky at the beginning when I started my first research on the perfect way of crystallising tears. Underestimating the external factors on the crystallisation.
Finding the maximum storage length:
Figuring out the maximum storage length of the tears was next on the agenda. How many days, weeks or months could a tear be stored without changing drastically over time. To test this, tears where shed every day for 1 week, by excessive yawning in the morning. Each morning that ear would then be stored in a new reaction tube. Right after it was shed, the tear would go trough the proces of crystallising and imaging.
The remaining tear fluid would then be stored at room temperature in a Ependorf reaction tube. This to see what would happen if its stored under normal conditions (room temperature) over time.
Every day this step was repeated, and added to the process. This would eventually result in 7 different crystallised slides from the tear shed on day 1. Every following day would then have 1 tear les.
In the end of the week all crystallisations form the same tear would be compared to each other, looking for any noticeable visual changes. At this moment tear number 5, 6 and 7 where left out and used for later references.
The first concussion was very positive, the tear that was produced on day 1 and crystallised on day 1 did not look that differently than that same tear crystallised 7 days later. The characteristics seemed to stay the same, they where only “placed” differently thought the crystal.
This ment I could use these 7 tears to see what would happen over time. The next step would be to see how they would change over longer periods. The tears would now be stored in the same conditions for at least one month. To see if there would be any changes, checkups took place on a weekly basis. This resulted in the same conclusion as before, the tears again seemed not to be crystallising that differently over time. Which was great news!
Preserving tear slides:
There was still one other thing I wanted to be able to achieve. Preservation of the tear crystallisations on the microscopic slides. The tear crystals on the glas slides disintegrated over time, rendering the tear crystals useless over time.
After reading about different fixating & embalming methodes, trying several techniques resulted in the use of Canada Balsam. Tears could now be preserved between a microscope slide and its coverslip.
The only down side was that this fixating needed to be done after the tears where imaged. This due to a small los of resolution and possible contamination of the crystallisations by the canada balsam. Not a huge problem, at least it was now possible to preserve tears after there crystallisation. Making it possible to archive them and review them at a later time under the microscope. Again mission achieved!
The future of the Tear Collection Kit
Finding the ideal environmental conditions and the expiration date on storing tears, gave the Tear Collection Kit a future. Due to the combination of an ideal crystallisation environment tears could now be stored for months at room temperature. Making it posable to send in tears from al around the world, giving you the opportunity to tell your unique story and turn your tears into a tangible work of art.
Now the next challenge would be to create a dummy proof Tear Collection Kit. This ment I needed to create a kit that was; easy to use, light, small and with reasonably priced and disposable lab equipment.
Between April and July 2017 many different prototypes of the Tear Collection Kit where made and tested.
Easy to use was one of its most important aspects. This step required not only good lab materials and or equipment, but also a clear manual on how to collect your tears.
Finding the right pipette
The micro pipet that was normally use for Imaginarium of Tears was not an option. It is expensive, large, heavy and not disposable. It needed to be replaced by something else that was reasonably priced, small, light and disposable.
A pasteur pipet would be the prefect candidate, by testing several types of pasteur pipettes in many different volume sizes. A match was found, an 0.3ml disposable plastic pasteur pipette, reasonably easy to use and a fair price.
Unfortunately smaller pastuer pipettes are not made unless it a custom order. A smaller 0.1ml pipette would have made it even more perfect and easier to collect tears. But the price tag for this was just to high to start with.
The proces involves of collecting tears requires quit some steps, tips and tricks. So a good and clear guide was needed to guide the person trough the proces. Most important; get al steps as clear and intuitive as possible. This resulted many versions of the manual.
The problem of storing was already tackled in the previous research. The Ependorf 1.5ml reaction tube with a self closing lid worked perfectly. It was now time to think about combining these needed attributes and its packaging.
Since the Tear Collection Kit is send out by mail it needed to be, reasonably, small, light and strong to get around the world and back with its precious items.
After many packaging options a silver seal envelope was chosen as the main packaging containing the Typography; Imaginarium of Tears — Tear Collection Kit. This envelope could then also be used as a mirror if not available at that moment.
When a Tear Collection Kit is ordered, al its contents will be assembled in this silver seal envelope. The Tear Collection kit will contain a unique Identification number, printed on small labels and added to the manual and reaction tube. This identification number is later needed to activate and register your tears. Next to that you will receive 3 pasteur pipettes and a silver return bubble envelope with a return address sticker. After the address label with postage is printed it’s ready to send out to you.
The Final Tear Collection Kit
Proudly I want to present you the Tear Collection Kit!
Crying a river? Don’t be ashamed! Tears are stories, and stories connect us on a deeper level. Since everyone has their own story. We want to help you, to turn your tears into a unique tangible work of art.
With This Tear Collection Kit you collect your genuine tears, from the most valuable moments in life. By combining art and science, you can now with the help of Imaginarium of tears turn your tear into a unique tangible work of art. An artwork created by your body, mind and soul. An artwork representing a meaningful and valuable moment in life through the beauty of tears.
Imaginarium of Tears as worked hard to make it posable to capture and store your tears in a easy and convenient way with this Tear Collection Kit.
From experience we know that crying on command is hard, thats why we have created the Tear Collection Kit. A kit easy to cary with you, to capture tears from your most genuine moments in life. Moments of happiness or sadness that touch you deeply.
So after receiving your Tear Collection Kit, we advice you to first carefully read the instructions. This so you know exactly what to do when shedding tears in a genuine moment of your life.
The Tear Collection Kit contains a; manual, reaction tube, 3 pipettes and a silver bubble return envelope.
You can now order your Tear Collection Kit here:
In the coming weeks we will provide you with more detailed information about: How to use the Tear Collection Kit. And How Imaginarium of Tears is processing the Tear Collection kit after they are retuned. Please subscribe for more information.
More information about the project:
Did you miss the previous blogs of “Imaginarium of Tears” ? Or do you want to know more about the project?
THE OPENING OF THE MICROGRAPH STORIES PILOT LAB.medium.com
How my passion for visualising stories by using a microscope, became bigger than I could ever dream of.medium.com
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