Science experiments lead to artful photographs

Kaleidoscopes of form and color

Epsom salt, acetaminophen, vitamin supplements: It’s hard to believe these common drug store supplies are the subjects of Justin Zoll’s vibrant microscopy series.

“I’ve always been very interested in science,” says Zoll, who often did experiments with a friend who owned a microscope. One day the pair connected Zoll’s DSLR to the microscope, and Zoll liked the result. He purchased his own microscope through eBay and began experimenting with microscopic imagery.

© Justin Zoll

Most of his photos feature substances (e.g. aspirin, sugar, salt) that have been dissolved in water or vodka, heated, and cooled, Zoll explains. “I take water or alcohol or acetone and mix them up in a test tube and pour 100 microliters onto the glass slide, then heat it on the hot plate to encourage the solvent to evaporate and the crystals to form.” He’s made videos of the crystallization, too, which he hopes to add to his series.

The images—captured with a secondhand Canon EOS 5D Mark III that’s “well beyond its shutter limit,” he says—have appeared in New Scientist magazine, and he’s sold some prints. And he’d love to make larger prints for a gallery exhibition. “Because they’re panoramas, they could be printed 20 feet wide.” 

Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.