It all started after the death of his father. Gabriela Reyes Fuchs , artist and cinematographer, was holding the jar with the ashes of her loved one in her hands when she had the sudden need to see them through a microscope . “You will not see more than white, black and gray,” the experts told him. But Reyes discovered that if he looked into the microscope he could find something else: a galaxy.
Innerstela: the project that was born to see the ashes of loved ones
“I was looking at the creation in my father’s ashes,” Fuchs shared. It was almost a decade ago and thanks to the microscopes at the UNAM physics faculty that Gabriela was able to discover that the ashes of living beings contain lights, colors and nebulae similar to the galaxy, contrary to the monochromatic images that experts had predicted.
Because of her training as a cinematographer, Reyes has always been attracted to light. In addition, his relatives, many dedicated to the sciences, were not opposed to what at the time might have seemed like a crazy idea.
Once Reyes found out what was happening, she recounted that she felt very moved and a great relief that helped her better understand her father’s death. But another question arose: “Do all the ashes bloom or only those of my father?” and it was there that the process of scientific research began.
He collected more samples and realized that all living things, including animals, show a galaxy-like image in their ashes. To do this, all you need is a small sample of the ashes that are photographed in the laboratory. These images are as unique as a fingerprint, so no image will ever look the same.
“The fluorescence, the colors and the light come from the ashes. Not even a medium or liquid is used to be able to see the sample. Nothing is added to the sample and all the lights and colors come from the human ashes”, he mentioned.
This is how a simple curiosity developed into an artistic project called , where thanks to microscopes and hyper-specialized cameras, people who have lost a loved one can send the ashes to the laboratory and receive the portrait of their loved one, reflected as a galaxy
Micro history of microscopes
For the Innerstela portraits, Reyes uses special microscopes because the spectrum he needs to see is much broader than what a home microscope could offer. But how did we come to have these hyper-specialized devices?
According to the , the Assyrians, Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans and Chinese already knew the properties of lenses. But it was Zacharias Janssen and his father Hans Martens who, in 1590, created a tube with two lenses at each end with which they could obtain between three and nine magnifications.
Without knowing it, these relatives introduced humanity to the world of microscopy, with all the scientific, technological and medical repercussions.
Later, in the Renaissance, Robert Hooke was one of the first scientists to use the microscope, because it was thanks to one of them that in 1665 he published “Micrographia”, one of the most important works for this field where he describes insects and plants. It was he who defined the concept of “cell”, which led him to be considered the father of Cell Biology.
Other personalities in the 17th century, such as Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, are recognized for improving the microscope, but the physicist Ernst Abbe, a researcher at the Carl Zeiss company, is considered to have laid the foundations for modern optics theory in the 19th century.
According to César E. Montalvo, professor and researcher at UNAM, there are currently two types of microscopes that use light as an energy source to form enlarged and detailed images of objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye: photonic microscope simple – or magnifying glass – and compound photonic microscope.
Electron microscopy in Mexico
Electron microscopy makes it possible to reveal hidden things much smaller than the human eye can see. From mites crawling on our skin to the battles between our immune systems and disease. In Mexico, since the last century, microscopes of this type have been acquired that have brought great advances to science and technology.
The American company RCA Victor put its first electronic microscope on sale in 1942 and, four years later, it was acquired in Mexico by the Physical Chemistry Laboratory of the Center for Scientific Research of the School of Biological Sciences, in the old Casco de Santo Tomás. This was a microscope that worked with 30 kilovolts and achieved a resolution of 5 nanometers. Its cost was $48,000 pesos at the time.
In 1951, the same company sold the second electronic microscope installed in Mexico to the National School of Agriculture “Chapingo” and the first electronic microscope was obtained by the Institute of Medical and Biological Studies of the UNAM (today the Institute of Biomedical Research) in 1959. It was revolutionary because it became the first electron microscopy laboratory capable of studying animal cells and tissues.
Currently, both SEM and TEM, being one of the Latin American countries with the largest number of microscopes.
Electron microscopy laboratories in Mexico are installed mainly in the UNAM, the IPN and in the health sector, but in almost all the states of the country there is at least one electron microscopy laboratory, mainly in the facilities of state universities and in the technological ones.