Photos: Bent Light from Crystals

The photo below from Discover Magazine online is of a quartz crystal as seen through a microscope that photographs the crystal’s “birefringence” or its ability to bend light that passes through it.

Source: Discover Magazine online. “The Most Psychedelic Images in Science.” By Andrew Moseman. Published January 27, 2011. Original source: M. A. Geday and A. M. Glazer / Journal of Applied Crystallography, Volume 35, Part 2. April 2002.

I can’t make heads or tails of the language or process of crystal photomicroscopy, but I was piqued by this fascinating display of light bent by a crystal. I wondered if I could find photos of the birefringence of other types of crystals as viewed through a microscope and found the following images.

Optical properties of liquid crystal phases of bent-core molecules – One phase (a) and then the same phase (b) in an applied electric field (+40V). Another phase (c) and then the same phase (d) in an applied electric field (+35V). I’m not going to pretend I understand the phases of liquid crystal (or even what a bent-core molecule is!), but I do find it cool that when an electric field is applied, more colours appear.

Source: Liquid Crystal Group, Department of Physics, University of Colorado. Liquid Crystal Textures and Phases: A Short Tutorial.

Optical Spin-Orbit Coupling in Uniaxial Crystals (I have no idea what this means…)


Some photos are much less symmetrical in nature.

Birefringence of mineral ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland – This crystalline shard of mineral dust—as seen through a microscope—fell on Sweden.

Source: Graphic design and photographic art by Robert Corkery. “Natural self-assembled photonic paintings—inspiration for a post-pointillist.” Published May 4, 2010.

Interestingly, I came across many photos of crystals in articles related to arthritis; however, most of these articles were in medical journals and had to be bought, and I respected their copyright, but a few were available.

Synovial fluid (magnified 400x) in woman with acute monoarticular arthritis caused by crystals (the blue spherules seen here, each with a birefringent Maltese cross-like appearance)

Source: “Acute monoarticular arthritis caused by Maltese cross-like crystals.” PowerPoint Slide for Teaching. CMAJ March 15, 2005 vol. 172 no. 6 741-742.

Plate-like crystals (magnified 40x) typical of cholesterol monohydrate crystals detected in a tendon sheath in the ankle of a man with rheumatoid arthritis

Source: Curious Crystals: Chylous Arthritis in Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2010;37:1072-1073.

True-colour polarized light microscopy of different crystals: top left-glucose, top right-EDTA, bottom left-sodium phosphate, bottom right-sodium chloride

Source: Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health. Advanced Light Microscopy and Image Analysis Core.

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Touchy Subjects is owned and operated by Brenda Piquette. All information on the Touchy Subjects blog is copyright Brenda Piquette 2010 – 2012. Note: This information is provided for entertainment purposes only and should be verified for accuracy.

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This entry was posted in Health, Light, Physics, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Photos: Bent Light from Crystals

  1. Liette Ireland says:

    Wow, amazing pictures, just a little scary to think of what is actually in our bodies.

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