Cross-Polarized Crystal Photography
Part III...Making the Crystal Slides
Text and photography copyright Thomas Webster 2003. All rights reserved.
The following information is presented solely for the information and education of my readers as to how I make my microscope slides. This is not an endorsement of any particular method or procedure and in no way does this information come with any real or implied warranty of safety. The author will not be held responsible for any damages, real or imagined, resulting from the reader attempting to duplicate my methods and procedures. If you attempt to duplicate my methods and procedures you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk! It is also your responsibility to closely supervise children in all of these activities! It is also up to you to wear proper protective clothing, gloves, respirators, and eyewear if you attempt to duplicate any or all of these methods and procedures! No exceptions!!


Vitamin C Crystals
Vitamin C crystals evaporated from aqueous solution. Copyright Thomas L. Webster 2004

Making the Crystal Slides...Nothing could be easier to create than crystals on a microscope slide. Two methods may be used: 1) Allowing crystals to form from a solution and 2) melting substances between a coverslip and a microscope slide (a "melt"). Of the 2 methods, I prefer to allow crystals to form from solutions but not all substances are soluble in a solvent. There is an inherent amount of danger involved in creating "melts" and I resort to that method as a last resort. I will first attempt to make saturated solutions of a substance in water and alcohol, if the substance is not water soluble.

Caution!! Alcohol and some other non-aqueous solvents are highly flammable and must not be used near open flames! It is wisest to use these solvents in an area with adequate ventilation or use these solvents outdoors! Exposure to the fumes of some solvents may be toxic and some solvents are known to cause cancer! Always use extreme caution when using non-aqueous solvents. It is highly recommended that you wear protective clothing, gloves, a respirator, and eyewear when performing these procedures. Never allow children to use these solvents unsupervised!

Many stunning crystals may be formed by allowing saturated aqueous solutions of substances to evaporate on the microscope slide. The images of epsom salt crystals and vitamin c crystals on this website are but a few examples. A small amount, approximately 1/8 teaspoon, of ascorbic acid (pure vitamin c) crystals dissolved in about 30 ml of distilled water will form beautiful plate-like crystals that reveal intense colors under crossed-polarized filters. About the same amount of epsom salts dissolved in a like amount of water will create many stunning freeform crystal structures (see below). Spread these solutions thinly on a microscope slide and allow the water to evaporate. Don't make the solutions too saturated or the crystals formed will be too thick and opaque under the microscope. It takes a little experimentation to find the right saturation point.

Some substances will only dissolve in non-aqueous solvents. Some of these solvents may be isopropyl-, ethyl-, and methyl- alcohols or stronger solvents such as acetone and xylene. Always use these solvents in well-ventilated areas and away from sources of open flames and sparks (see the warning above). These caution statements just cannot be overemphasized! It is best to dissolve the substance in a glass container if you are using any non-aqueous solvent. Many plastics will dissolve either partially or wholly when exposed to non-aqueous solvents. This will not only contaminate your crystal solution but may impose a serious health hazard, too.

Acetominophen crystals evaporated form a solution of ethanol. Copyright Thomas L. Webster 2004

Many common across-the-counter drugs will yield photogenic crystals. I have used acetominophen (tylenol), ibuprofin, and aspirin to great effect. The use of a small mortar and pestle to grind the tablets finer helps getting these substances to dissolve more easily. Don't be afraid to "torture" the crystals as they are forming. Subjected to different environmental conditions crystal formations will take on different structures. Often times I will place the microscope slide and solution in the microwave oven and "nuke" the solution to the boiling point. This works especially well with acetominophen (tylenol) and aspirin. I will also place forming crystals in the freezer for a few days. Crystal growth proceeds slowly and in many amazing directions.

Caution!! Substances dissolved in flammable, non-aqueous solvents should never be subjected to heat "torture"! This could result in a fire or explosion and resulting burns! Never, never use flammable, non-aqueous solvents near open flames or sources of sparks!

As stated earlier, "melts" are another way to create crystals. With this method a small amount of the substance is placed between a microscope slide and a cover slip. The microscope slide is then passed through a flame until the substance is melted. Once melted, a small weight is placed on the coverslip to squeeze out excess material and keep the material layer as this as possible. I bought an assortment of lead fishing weights (cheaply available at any good sporting goods store) and wrapped the weights in aluminum foil. One or two of these weights on a coverslip is all that is necessary to keep the material layer thin. Heat the microscope slide, material, and coverslip "sandwich" slowly. Applying too much heat too quickly will not only burn the material but may cause the microscope slide to shatter. It is not unusual to break a number of microscope slides while learning to perform melts.

Caution!! Some substances used for melts may be flammable once they are melted! Other substances may give off toxic fumes! At a minimum, always wear proper protective gloves, clothing, and eyewear when performing melts! Overheated microscope slides may suddenly break without warning! Never allow children to perform melts unsupervised!

Lately I have taken to using a small toaster-oven for creating low-temperature melts. Substances such as napthalene and paradichlorobenzene (both are "moth balls") melt at low temperatures. I place the toaster-oven outdoors to vent off any toxic fumes and the microscope slides are safely contained within the oven. I will slowly raise the temperature of the oven until the substance just starts to melt. Not only does this offer some protection from shattered microscope slides and toxic fumes but I have broken far fewer microscope slides this way.

Caution!! Never place microscope slides with non-aqueous, flammable solvents in the toaster oven. The fumes from these solvents can heat quickly and cause an explosion resulting in severe burns and trauma! Never allow children to perform melts with a toaster-oven unsupervised! Always wear protective gear when performing any kind of melt! (Continue to Part IV...)

Front Page Articles Forums & Galleries Links About Us
Website design and graphics copyrighted Reasonable Expectations Productions 2004. All rights reserved. All images are copyrighted by the original artists/photographers. No content, neither written nor graphic, may be reproduced without expressed written permission of the copyright holders. Copyrights are filed accordingly with the Library of Congress. Infractions of the copyright laws are actively and aggressively litigated and may subject the defendant to actual and punitive damages as well as reimbursement of court and attorney costs. No exceptions! Content on the Internet may be free for public viewing. However, content on the Internet is not free for public use. Let's all work together to protect copyrighted works displayed on the Internet. These sites are best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer® version 5.5 or later. Web layout and design produced with Macromedia Dreamweaver® 6.01. Image preparation's accomplished with Adobe Photoshop® 6.01. Interactive content produced with Macromedia Flash® 5.0.