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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: This is citric acid on art

by Emily Harwitz
August 18, 2021


A hyperbolic tiling of a polarized photo of a citric acid crystal (left) and micrographs of citric acid crystals viewed through a light microscope (top right) and using polarized optical microscopy (bottom right).
Credit: Vance Williams

The dazzling circular image is a hyperbolic tiling of a polarized photo of a citric acid crystal. “When you’re a scientist, you’re trying to really convey information with your images, and you don’t want to play around with the images in a way that’s misleading,” says Vance Williams, professor of organic materials at Simon Fraser University. But if you’re doing art, “those rules don’t apply,” he says. To make the final image, Williams first dissolved citric acid in water and let it evaporate on a microscope slide, as seen in the black and white image. Then he viewed the crystals with polarized optical microscopy to get the rainbow sherbet colors. Polarized light microscopy works well with birefringent materials, like most organic crystals, which means they refract light differently depending on the direction light travels through it, Williams explains. After choosing a portion of the slide he liked, Williams processed it using the site Make Hyperbolic Tilings of Images. “It’s been a big adjustment to try to learn how to change my brain, from science to [going] after something for purely aesthetic reasons,” Williams says. He adds, “you’d be amazed how many scientists are closet artists.”

Credit: Vance Williams. Follow him on Instagram @vance.williams Do science. Take pictures. Win money. Enter our photo contest here.

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