Nikon Diaphot Microscope (circa 1985)

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Chemical Crystals

Chemical compounds can exist in three basic phases, gaseous, liquid, or solid. Gases consist of weakly bonded atoms and expand to fill any available space. Solids are characterized by strong atomic bonding and have a rigid shape. Most are crystalline, having a three-dimensional periodic atomic arrangement. Some, such as glass, lack this periodic arrangement and are noncrystalline, or amorphous. Liquids have characteristics that fall in between gases and solids. This cinemicrographic collection shows time-lapse movies of various chemical compounds as they change physical states.

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  • Aspirin - Aspirin is a salicylic acid acetate with anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties that also acts as a highly effective non-opiate analgesic. The drug crystallizes in the form of a white, needle-like powder with only a faint odor.

  • Sodium Barbital - Sodium barbital is a short-acting barbiturate used intravenously to induce unconsciousness in patients about to undergo surgery. Gaseous anesthetics are then administered to maintain the unconscious state.

  • Biobuffer - Biochemical buffers are synthetic organic compounds that often contain non-carbon functional groups such as phosphate, amino, sulfhydryl, hydroxy, and heterocyclic atoms capable of being ionized at physiological pH ranges. A buffer is an aqueous solution containing dissolved compounds that help resist pH changes that occur by addition of small quantities of hydrogen and hydroxide ions during enzymatic or other chemical reactions.

  • Calcium Chloride - A colorless or white solid, calcium chloride is well known for its anhydrous properties, absorbing more than its own weight of water. The compound is commonly used as a drying agent as well as for many other applications.

  • Carnitine - Technically, this chemical is not an amino acid, but a water-soluble, vitamin-like compound that is readily synthesized in the body from the amino acids lysine and methionine and Vitamin C. It is important for helping the body's cells convert fatty acids into energy.

  • Cholesterol - For animals, cholesterol is essential to life, a primary component of the membrane that surrounds every cell. It is also the precursor chemical from which the body synthesizes bile acids, steroid hormones, and vitamin D. Cholesterol circulates in the bloodstream and is manufactured by the liver and several other organs.

  • Copper Sulfate - Copper sulfate is a water-soluble copper (II) salt that has a wide spectrum of uses ranging from a supplement for animal feed to electrolytic plating of metallic copper.

  • DDT - One of the most effective, if deadly, pesticides, this organochlorine insecticide is certainly the most historically significant, due to its effects on the environment, agriculture, and human health.

  • Detergent - Saponins are natural surfactants, or detergents, found in many plants, but they are most abundant in the desert plants Yucca and Quillaja. Extracts from these plants are commonly used as foaming agents for beverages such as root beer. These biochemicals also have commercial applications such as ore separation in industrial and mining operations, and are useful in products such as photographic emulsions, cosmetics, and shampoos.

  • DNA - Deoxyribonucleic acid is a complex organic molecule found in all prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and in many viruses. DNA carries the chemical information needed to direct protein synthesis and cell replication.

  • Ephedrine - Ephedrine is a member of the adrenergic bronchodilator class of drugs that serve to open up the bronchial tubes of the lungs. These drugs are used to treat the symptoms of asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other lung diseases as well as to relieve coughs, wheezing and clogged breathing tubes.

  • Fluoxetine - Fluoxetine is a powerful antidepressant whose mechanism of action appears to be linked to inhibition of central nervous system neuronal uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Recently, there have been suggestions that fluoxetine can induce suicidal tendencies in a small number of patients, but more investigations must be conducted to confirm this supposition. Side effects include anxiety, insomnia, altered appetite, and seizures.

  • Glutamic Acid - First isolated in 1865, glutamic acid is an amino acid that functions as an important metabolic intermediate. A salt of glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate (MSG), is sometimes used as a condiment for flavoring foods.

  • Glutaric Acid - One of the dicarboxylic acids, glutaric acid is a by-product of amino acid metabolism. In humans, a devastating genetic disorder called Glutaric Aciduria interferes with the ability to properly digest protein resulting in the build-up of glutaric acid in the bloodstream. Left undiagnosed and untreated, this condition can damage two nerve clusters in the brain involved in controlling posture and movement, causing serious and permanent disability.

  • Ibuprofen - Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is used to treat symptoms caused by arthritis, such as swelling, pain, and stiffness. This drug is widely available without prescription and is marketed under a variety of trade names including Advil, Nuprin, and Motrin. Ibuprofen is also often used to reduce fever and many people take it as a painkiller, although it has not been demonstrated to have remarkable effects on headaches.

  • Inositol - Inositol is an essential nutrient for cells and may be an important supplement for newborns and premature babies, although research has not established its importance in humans yet. A carbohydrate that closely resembles glucose in its structure, inositol is converted to phytic acid, which is found in grains and forms an insoluble calcium salt in the intestines of mammals.

  • Liquid Crystals - Liquid crystals are sometimes referred to as the "fourth state" of matter following gases, liquids, and solids. The individual molecules flow past each other as they do in a liquid but tend to be oriented in the same manner, like the molecular arrangement in a solid crystal.

  • Magnesium Chloride - Magnesium chloride is a supplement for patients who are deficient in magnesium. Usually a balanced diet will provide all of the magnesium salts required for normal metabolism, however some patients lose magnesium due to illness or treatment with certain drugs. This lack of magnesium may lead to muscle weakness, irregular heartbeats, and irritability.

  • Methylphenidate - More commonly known as Ritalin or Methylin, methylphenidate is a mild central nervous system stimulant prescribed primarily to treat attention deficit disorders and narcolepsy.

  • Moth Balls - A crystalline white hydrocarbon, naphthalene is well known for the aromatic odor it gives to moth balls. Derived from coal tar, it is used to manufacture plastics, dyes, solvents, and other chemicals. It is also used as an antiseptic and insecticide.

  • Nicotine - An oily liquid substance found in tobacco plants, nicotine is the principal alkaloid of tobacco. Nicotine is found throughout the tobacco plant, but occurs in highest concentrations in the leaves. In its pure form nicotine is colorless, but when exposed to light or air, it acquires a brown color and gives off a strong tobacco odor.

  • Polymer Gels - Polymers are very large molecules that are composed of many smaller subunits connected together by various types of chemical bonds. Some popular examples are polyethylene, the common plastic used in kitchen sandwitch baggies and DNA, the genetic blueprint. Polyethylene is composed of many small ethylene (2 carbons and 4 hydrogens) molecules aligned in a head-to-tail manner and polymerized to form poly methylene groups with methyl groups at each end.

  • Potassium Thiocyanate - This compound is one of the essential raw materials for the production of a variety of pharmaceutical products. When recrystallized from the melt, potassium thiocyanate will slowly crystallize, forming beautiful dendritic needle-like crystals.

  • RU-486 - RU-486 is the code name for a new abortion drug that is now widely known as Mifepristone. This drug was developed in France and has been shown to be highly effective in inducing spontaneous abortion when administered in early pregnancy. Mifepristone has also been demonstrated to be highly effective as a post-coital contraceptive (morning after pill) when administered within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Additional studies have shown the drug has the potential for preventing implantation and inducing menstruation when administered in the last half of the menstrual cycle.

  • Sodium Carbonate - Seaweed ashes were an early source of sodium carbonate, which gave it the name soda ash. Pure sodium carbonate is a white, odorless powder and is one of the fundamental industrial chemicals. It is used in the manufacture of glass, chemicals, soaps, and detergents, and is used for processing wood pulp and refining aluminum.

  • Strontium Acetate - Strontium is an element that belongs to the group of alkaline-earth metals. It is a soft metal, like lead, and has a silvery color when freshly cut. The pure metal does not occur naturally and can only be produced through processing. Strontium is the principal health hazard in radioactive fallout and is used as an ingredient in red signal flares.

  • Tums® - Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in Tums® and other over the counter antacids. The compound is involved in neutralizing stomach acid with the Ca++ portion mostly absorbed by the body. This also makes TUMS®, and other antacids based on calcium carbonate, a valuable source of dietary calcium.

  • Tylenol - Tylenol is one of over 100 brand names of the analgesic acetaminophen that acts quickly and safely to provide temporary relief of minor headaches, minor muscular aches, overexertion, menstrual cramps, and many other ailments.

  • Urea - Excess nitrogen in the body is excreted in one of three forms: ammonia (as the ammonium ion), urea, and uric acid. Animals, such as fish, that live in the water excrete nitrogen as ammonia, which is quickly diluted by the aqueous environment. In terrestrial animals, the primary waste product of nitrogen metabolism is urea, a water-soluble compound. Birds excrete excess nitrogen in the form of uric acid, an insoluble chemical that allows birds to remove nitrogen without the use of water.

  • Vinegar - Vinegar is the most commonly known form of this carboxylic acid, produced by the fermentation and oxidation of natural carbohydrates. It occurs naturally in body fluids and plant juices and is an important metabolic intermediate in biological systems.

  • Vitamin B3 - Niacin (Vitamin B3) is more commonly known as nicotinamide in the biochemical community and plays an important role in the biosynthesis of pyridine nucleotides. This nitrogen heterocyclic biochemical is combined in vivo with the nucleotide adenosine to form nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which serves as a soluble electron carrier in biochemical reactions. Common sources of niacin include cheese, beans, milk, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, whole grains, and brewer's yeast. Clinically, niacin serves to maintain normal function of the digestive system, helps to reduce cholesterol levels, and serves to reduce dizziness and ringing in the ears.

  • Vitamin B6 - Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) was discovered in the 1930s as the result of a series of nutritional investigations of rats fed vitamin-free diets. The original compound that was isolated is pyridoxine, named due to its structural similarity with pyridine, but possessing an additional hydroxymethyl group in the para position. In the body, however, the parahydroxymethyl moiety is oxidized to an aldehyde and the similar group in the meta position is phosphorylated, resulting in the biologically active pyridoxal phosphate.

  • Vitamin C - Ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that functions as a powerful antioxidant. Although most animals can synthesize vitamin C, others -- such as humans, other primates, and guinea pigs -- obtain it only through their diets.


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