Featured microscopist Loes Modderman is noted for her remarkable polarized light photomicrographs of chemical substances in crystallized form. With imagery that encompasses an endlessly pleasing range of pattern and color, this gallery is representative of Loes Modderman's outstanding work in optical microscopy.
Acetaminophen - Acetaminophen is a potent, non-opiate analgesic and antipyretic that is both widely prescribed and sold over-the-counter without a prescription. Increasingly, the drug has become available in different combinations to form compound analgesics, which are often mixed with codeine, and marketed under various trade names. In some European countries, acetaminophen is commonly known as paracetamol.
Acetylsalicylic Acid - Acetylsalicylic acid, more popularly known by the name aspirin, is the world's most widely recommended drug. As an over-the-counter pharmaceutical, it is commonly used in the treatment of a myriad of ailments including aches, pains, fever, and swelling.
Acetylsalicylic Acid-Hydroquinone Mixture - Both playing a role in the pharmaceutical industry, acetylsalicylic acid and hydroquinone are pictured here in a colorful crystal medley. Known by millions as aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid has been effective in the over-the-counter treatment of arthritis, headaches, cold and flu symptoms, and most recently, as a prophylactic fighting stroke and heart attacks. Originally extracted by the ancient Greeks in a related derivative from willows, biochemists at the Bayer Corporation synthesized and marketed acetylsalicylic acid and added a buffered outer layer to protect sensitive throat and stomach linings from irritation and potential hemorrhage. Hydroquinone, in contrast, has much more limited use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and is potentially a carcinogen. It has been detected in analyses of second-hand cigarette smoke and is known to be a skin and respiratory irritant.
Asparagine-Acetaminophen Mixture - Asparagine holds the distinction of being the first amino acid isolated from a natural source. Acetaminophen is a potent, non-opiate analgesic and antipyretic that is both widely prescribed and sold over-the-counter.
Betaine-Glycine Mixture - Known also as glycin, glycine is the simplest of the amino acids and is soluble in both water and alcohol. This important biochemical helps release oxygen required for cell reproduction and is involved the biosynthesis of hormones. Found naturally not only in eggs and liver, but also in fish, beets, and legumes, betaine is able to reduce the levels of harmful homocysteine in human plasma.
Betaine-Urea Mixture - Both betaine and urea are naturally occurring organic substances that are also often synthesized by chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Betaine crystals are typically short-lived while urea crystals are relatively stable. Betaine-glycine, the structurally simplest betaine compound, was originally commercially extracted from sugar beets and a variety of seaweeds. Utilized primarily as commercial synthetic fertilizer, urea has the distinction of being the first organic substance synthesized wholly from inorganic ingredients and for nailing the coffin of the ill-fated vitalism theory that attempted to explain the origin of organic chemicals.
Calcium Carbonate - Calcium components in bone mainly consist of carbonate and phosphate salts, which are only slightly soluble in water. Acid-based decalcifying agents must be used to enhance the solubility of the metallic salts, and are designed to release calcium ions.
Cholesterol - Cholesterol is a steroid that occurs in almost all animal fats, as well as in blood, bile, and cell membranes. It is an important hormone that acts as a precursor in a variety of biochemical reactions. Cholesterol-rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, seafood, egg yolks, and a variety of dairy products.
Coumarin-Diclofenac Mixture - A naturally occurring compound found in many plants, coumarin is commonly used in cosmetics, perfumes, and tobacco products. Diclofenac is a well-known nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Cupric Sulfate - Cupric sulfate is the best known, and most widely used of the copper salts. Blue vitriol, and blue stone are among the names by which this substance is known. As a commonly used copper salt, cupric sulfate has many commercial uses in medicine, agriculture, and husbandry.
Decalcifier - Decalcification is a technique for removing calcium from tissue specimens in order to permit medical and scientific observation. This method is an important step in processing tissue and bone marrow biopsies, as well as in preparing specimens for examination under the microscope.
Glauber's Salt-Photochemical Mixture - Glauber's salt, which is made from sodium sulfate, and extracted from the mineral glauberite, is predominantly utilized in the manufacture of paper, and glass. Medications designed to ease digestive difficulties are frequently composed of this glauberite derivative, and various heating systems contain this salt as well.
Hydroquinone - After purification and recrystallization, hydroquinone generally appears as an off-white powder, or as fine, white, crystalline needles, which are freely soluble in warm water or alcohol. An organic compound that naturally occurs in some plants, hydroquinone can also be formed by chemically reducing benzoquinone.
Lithium, Guanidinium, and Potassium Chlorides - Lithium is a monovalent alkali metal related to sodium and potassium, but is much more deliquescent and is very soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. The second crystal featured in this image, guanidinium chloride, occurs biologically as a neurotoxin and geologically as a mineral that is susceptible to structural changes under pressure. Diet salt (potassium chloride) is thrown into the mix for contrast in this artistic composition. In addition to substituting for table salt (sodium chloride) targeted at sodium-sensitive people suffering from hypertension, diet salt also provides valuable cationic potassium for improving water and electrolytic balance.
Progesterone - Progesterone is a steroidal hormone that plays a central role in the female reproductive cycle. The sex hormone is produced primarily by the adrenal glands, the placenta, and the corpus luteum of the ovary. In the absence of oocyte fertilization, progesterone levels decrease, and menstruation occurs. However, if the egg should happen to become fertilized, progesterone levels will increase to help maintain pregnancy and promote mammary gland development.
Resorcinol - Resorcinol is a widely used chemical with numerous applications including an intermediate in organic synthesis, and as an ingredient in the production of dyestuffs and pharmaceuticals. In addition, specialized dye, very useful in optical microscopy, is referred to as eosin and derived from resorcinol. Eosin, or tetrabromofluorescein, is a red dye that is also extensively employed in the production of medicines, papers, pigments, textiles, varnishes, and cosmetics.
Saccharin-Dextrin Mixture - As the oldest artificial sweetener, saccharin is currently making a comeback after medical research pegged it as a demon rather than a savior for weight-conscious individuals and diabetics that cannot tolerate natural sugars without a severe glucose reaction because of insulin problems. Sugar rationing during the two World Wars made saccharin a product in high demand in Europe and the United States as a sugar substitute. By the 1960s, diet fads and concerns with an ever-burgeoning American populace pushed the growth of saccharin as a low-calorie sugar substitute into orbit in the familiar pink package of Sweet 'N Low.
Saccharin-Hydroquinone Mixture - Saccharin is a non-caloric, non-nutritive artificial sweetener. Although saccharin is popular as a tabletop sweetener, it is also found in baked goods, chewing gum, candy, salad dressings, cosmetics, and various pharmaceuticals. Hydroquinone is a light and air-sensitive photochemical with antioxidant properties, and is often incorporated into cooking-grade oils and fats as a preserving agent.
Soda-Boric Acid-Glycine Mixture - Baking soda, a form of sodium bicarbonate, naturally occurs in almost all life forms, but is also manufactured from mined soda ash or synthesized by the Solvay process. From our refrigerator freshener to our rising cakes and our antacid heartburn relief, baking soda permeates our daily lives. Boric acid, derived from borax and kernite, finds utility not only in the medicine cabinet as an eye ointment and mild antiseptic, but also in commercial applications as an industrial lubricant, a relatively environmentally-benign insecticide, and for cleaning products. Glycine, the third member of this crystal trio, is a naturally occurring amino acid, but also is manufactured by the food and pharmaceutical industries. Glycine is used by the body as a metabolic building block for nucleic acids, bile acids, porphyrins, creatine phosphate, and other amino acids.
Sodium Chloride-Glycine Mixture - Sodium chloride has been used by mankind before recorded history as a mineral of paramount importance in regulating health, as well as in seasoning food. Glycine, possessing a single hydrogen atom in its molecular side chain, is structurally the simplest of the 20 amino acids that combine to form proteins. Among the earliest of the amino acids to be isolated, this sweet-tasting, organic compound is commonly found in gelatin.
Sodium Thiosulfate - Also termed sodium hyposulfite or hypo, this inorganic salt enjoys a central role in photography because of its usefulness in dissolving silver salts during development of film emulsions. Sodium thiosulfate is also heavily employed in the tanning industry and as a chemical intermediate or reagent for the synthesis of other, more complex, chemicals.
Tartaric Acid-Sugar Mixture - Tartaric acid occurs in one of three salt forms: Cream of tartar, tartar emetic, and Rochelle salt. Interestingly, the crystals of Rochelle salt have piezoelectric properties, and are employed as part of the conducting components in some microphones. Sugars occur as several different molecular compounds, and they belong to a class of substances termed carbohydrates. These typically sweet-tasting molecules are present in the sap of many seed plants, as well as in the milk of mammals.
Tartaric Acid-Urea Mixture - Tartaric acid is a naturally occurring, crystalline compound commonly found in tart fruits, unripe grapes, pineapples, and mulberries. Urea is a favorite ingredient for fertilizers because it contains higher nitrogen content than the alternatives (46 percent). In addition, urea produces few pollutants, and fire hazard is minimal. In granulated form, the chemical is hard, and more resistant to moisture, so most gardeners prefer to use the granules, as opposed to other available forms.
Thiocarbamide - Thiocarbamide resembles urea in structure, but substitutes sulfur for the oxygen atom that is doubly bonded to the central carbon atom. Better known as thiourea, thiocarbamide is classified as a hazardous chemical that may explode when exposed to fire, releasing toxic nitrogen and sulfur oxides upon heating. Other dangerous properties include efficacy as a skin and respiratory irritant, and the organic chemical is harmful or fatal if ingested.
Vitamin B1-Urea Mixture - Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is important for nervous system function, musculature, cardiovascular health, and normal growth and development. The important co-enzyme also aids in metabolizing carbohydrates, and it helps to regulate the appetite. Dietary sources of this necessary vitamin include flour, brewer's yeast, beans, pork, salmon, soybeans, and wheat germ. Urea is the end product of nitrogen metabolism in most mammals, and it was the first animal metabolite to be isolated in crystallized form. In 1773, scientists discovered that urea releases ammonia when heated, and in 1828, urea was the first organic compound to be synthesized from inorganic materials.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) - Whether taken in synthesized tablet form or via a nutritious, balanced diet with naturally rich (orange juice, rose hips, tomatoes) or fortified (grape juice and breakfast cereals) food sources, it is important for humans to supplement their diets with ample vitamin C. For some people the federal government's recommended daily allowance of 60 milligrams is not enough and they turn towards mega-doses of vitamin C to battle colds, other viruses, and even cancer (although the anti-carcinogenic properties of vitamin C are hotly disputed).
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Photomicrographs are © 2000-2021 by Loes Modderman.