An Album of Vitamin C Mixtures
Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
Thanks to recent email correspondence with Robert Berdan, a brilliant Canadian photomicrographer, I went back to some early images I had taken of Vitamin C mixed with a wide variety of other substances. His stunning images inspired me to go back and see if I could resuscitate some of my earlier efforts.
Sometimes, I used “pure” Ascorbic acid, but I also used OTC Vitamin C tablets from which I would shave off some material, dissolve it in water, and ignore all the additives and binders in the tablets, even though they undoubtedly influenced the results.
My concern here is the visual aspect and, in some instances, the associations which an image may provoke so, in one sense, this album is a kind of electronic mini-gallery. Some of my first experiments were with Acetaminophen (Tylenol, but I’m cheap–I used a generic version). This, of course, introduced more binders and extraneous additives from that tablet. I ignore all that because one would need a full-time staff of 20 to check out and try to analyze the effect of each ingredient and the combinations. Life’s too short; I just wanted to produce some nice images. The ones we’ll be looking at were all taken with polarization, unless otherwise indicated.
This first image shows a series of conical structures and in the large central one, at the tip, there is the Maltese cross which is typical in Ascorbic acid preparations.
I am astonished repeatedly how the “same” combination of ingredients can produce radically different forms, often on the same slide. Consider how different this next image is. It makes me think of an albino Peacock feather and yet it is the same mixture.
Now, wrap (or if you’re under 25, ‘rap’) your eyes around this. Again same combination.
Clearly, some alien plant growth.
My next combination was that of Ascorbic (or tablet–with the images in this album, I can’t be sure which) and the toothache medicine Anbesol. Over the years, I have tried Anbesol (and sometimes generic forms) and suspect that the formula may have changed, because I started getting much less satisfactory results. (Probably just a result of my having too much happy juice before a photo session but, sometimes these compounds are very pretentious and you have to get them in the mood before they will pose and often just a drop or two of alcohol will do it).
I very much like the subtle pastel lattice work in this image.
In the inverted image, we get quite interesting color shifts.
The next three images again show what remarkably different images can be derived from a single slide. These are the result of a mixture of Ascorbic acid and the biological stain Acridine Orange. This is a fluorochrome which is widely used in fluorescence microscopy. It is also a mutagen and years ago, I added a very dilute solution to some Lacrymaria olor cultures and managed to produce some wonderfully weird mutants with 3 heads and neck. The first image is enormously powerful; it is “The Eye of God”.
The next one and its inverse form have virtually no power at all, but would be wonderful designs for drink coasters or round plastic table coverings.
However, other biological stains can have immense power in this case Alizarin Red S. Here we have an image of the cosmic singularity a fraction of a nanosecond after it exploded and created the universe. And from looking at it, you can understand why the CROSS, in one form or another, shows up in religion after religion.
Anyone who has worked much at all with Ascorbic acid crystals knows that intricate and variant disk forms are fairly common.
I’ll provide you with 2 colorful examples. These are Ascorbic acid mixed with Chloral hydrate, a powerful sedative, sometimes used before surgery.
First up is a lovely, colorful cluster of 3 disks.
And then a splendid mutant disk.
Eyes, in one form or another, show up frequently in preparations with Ascorbic acid. To maintain my claim to the title of King of Curmudgeonly Eccentrics of Laramie, my next 2 images were the result of adding to a drop of Ascorbic acid, a drop of Elmer’s Gel Glue. First a sizeable eye.
I like the color contrast, but especially the surrounding contours.
The next 2 images also utilized Elmer’s Glue and the second is an inverse of the first.
Toward the bottom right, you can see a small eye and about ½ the way up on the left side, on the tip of the cone, you can see a tiny Maltese cross. However, there is a highly distorted Maltese cross wandering through the middle of the image from top to bottom. It is perhaps more evident in the inverted image as it shows up in white.
While I was on this eccentric roll, I decided to try some Kanka (wow, that sounds pretty sleazy, doesn’t it?). Well Kanka is simply a liquid medication for canker sores and mouth pain. Oh, those clever Madison Avenue denizens–Kanka for Canker. Oh well, who cares, I got a great image which looks good both with black background and an inverted one with a white background; although, I must admit, I’m partial to the one with the black background.
Well, let’s come down from the eccentric binge and use a nice familiar, stable biological stain, Malachite Green. Here is a nice non-eccentric image with nice textures and good color contrasts.
However, then things suddenly got unusual again. Hey, don’t blame me; it’s still good old Malachite Green. Nonetheless, I started getting feathery disks.
The inverse in conjunction with the color contrast function and a white background produced an image which I find rather pleasing.
So, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that we happen to find a disk within a disk.
But then some wild abstract artist takes over again with some forms reminiscent of Miro.
And if we invert it, it gets quite lovely strange–at least for the eyes.
Speaking of eyes, the next image reveals 5 peacock feather eyes and four small singularities.
Since I have been borrowing the term ‘singularities’ from contemporary physics, we might as well steal some bits from quantum physics, so here is an image that has the fundamental quarkiness quality of strangeness.
Now remember, we’re still in Ascorbic-Malachite Green territory. I find this image fascinating for reasons I can’t even begin to articulate–wheels within wheels within feathers. And, in some ways, it becomes even more intriguing in its inverted version.
Asorbic acid on its own is delightfully unpredictable. Now I almost never use melts; that is, heating crystals until they take on a semi-solid or liquid state and then allowing them to recrystallize. However, I have a few images taken some years ago, which are from such melts and as I look at them, I am tempted to try once again. How about a striking wing of an alien?
And here maybe we have wing flaps under a UFO.
Using a different biological stain, I was fortunate to capture a splendid moment of a supernova complete with Maltese cross at the center.
Most microscopists have some basic stains and if you are experimenting with making slides of crystals for polarization, I enthusiastically recommend trying a wide variety of combinations. The amounts which we need are very small, since the solutions we make up are rarely more than 1%. Some supply houses will supply small quantities. However, some stains are available only in quantities which one wouldn’t use in a lifetime or small quantities which are quite expensive. So, if you find some you want, the solution is to find some fellow enthusiasts and split the cost. Always handle powdered stain with great care and take all necessary precautions, because a significant number of them are carcinogenic. So, take the Bill Clinton oath and don’t inhale.
As I mentioned before certain chemicals and stains can behave in such a way as to provide some predictable patterns. However, on some occasions, if you mix 2 semi-predictables, you can end up with something which you didn’t expect at all. A case in point is a mixture of Magnesium sulfate (Epson Salts) and the stain Orange G. Magnesium sulfate frequently produces smooth colorful forms and Orange G contributes acicular forms in abundance. However, their combination produced something which I didn’t anticipate at all.
The inverse version was also a delightful surprise.
One can even use more than one kind of stain in a mixture without getting just a muddy mess, although that is indeed sometimes the result. In this instance, I mixed Ascorbic, Orange G, and Gentian Violet. The image reminds me of the pyrite “dollars” found deep in Illinois coal mines.
Here’s a link to the pyrite dollars.
It should be emphasized that one is by no means limited to adding biological stain to get very pleasing results. For my next performance, I mixed Ascorbic, Nickel sulfate, and Bromoselzter, the genuine stuff from a very old cobalt blue bottle. The original contained sodium bromide which was withdrawn in 1975 when it was recognized as being toxic. The image look like some sort of strange flutterby, the first image being the female and the inverse image, the male.
I’ll conclude with an image taken from space of an alien colonial outpost up in the Arctic. You can even see 2 of the “saucers” that have docked.
This is a mixture of Ascorbic, Nickel sulfate, and just a tiny dash of Sodium silicate or Water Glass which used to be used as an egg preservative.
I hope you’ve gotten a bit of pleasure out of this whimsical journey.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the January 2020 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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