Of all the cannabis books available in North America, “Cannabis: Marijuana under the Microscope ” by Ted Kinsman is far and away the most unique.
Author: Ted Kinsman
Cover price: $16.99
For information about wholesale purchases, contact Schiffer Publishing.
In a flooded market of how-to-grow books, bud porn archives and canna-cultural explorations, The book presents marijuana as it’s never been seen before — through an electron microscope to get up close and personal with leaves, seeds, pollen and trichomes.
Kinsman is currently an assistant professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Prior to joining the school’s Photographic Sciences Department, he worked as an optical engineer, a physicist and a physics instructor. His work has appeared in numerous television series and is one of the few active high-speed photographers able to shoot pictures at times less than one-millionth of a second.
Marijuana Venture: How did you come up with the idea for this project?
Ted Kinsman: I really love microscopes. I have a dozen microscopes at home and one huge scanning electron microscope (SEM) about the size of a small car. It lives in the living room. I also have three SEMs at work. I teach SEM at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. In the past I have done a lot of science photography for TV shows: bullets for CSI, worms for the X-Files and a thousand projects in between. Years ago, I stumbled across a book that was just SEM images of a honeybee. I thought, “What a great project!” So, I kept looking for a subject that regular people would find interesting and used pictures from a microscope.
Over the course of several years, I shot all the images for the book. After I signed the book contract with Schiffer, I discovered that cannabis looked fantastic when frozen in the microscope. This technique uses a cryostage. A cryostage uses liquid nitrogen at minus-320 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the sample super-frozen and keep the glandular trichomes from changing size and shape in the high vacuum inside the scanning electron microscope. I machined a cryostage for my home microscope and had to reshoot almost all the images in the book a month before the deadline. It was a lot of very late nights.
MV: Did you run into any complications with it?
TK: I live in New York, and anyone who is good at growing cannabis moved out of state about five years ago. It took quite a while to find a plant that could provide samples. The samples have to be cut and frozen to liquid nitrogen temperatures within a few minutes, then imaged in the scanning electron microscope. I could not drive very far to get a sample. Finding good, high-quality plants with well-developed trichomes was the biggest problem. Nobody wants to see dried out plants — although I did put a picture in the book to show people what the bud in their pocket looks like.
Photographing the pollen was the most difficult part; I had to convince a grower to keep a few male plants in a room with the females. The pollen in the act of pollinating the female has never been photographed before and I had to have it in the book. I ended up looking at more than 80 samples to find one good example. Keep in mind that five pollen grains end-to-end are the width of a human hair.
MV: Was there anything you learned about cannabis from looking at it and photographing it in
such detail? Or anything that stood out to you as particularly interesting?
TK: I was really surprised how much variation the different stains had. Most trichomes have a single head, but I found a number of cultivars that had trichomes with two heads. As breeders create plants with higher levels of THC, the easiest way for the plant to achieve these high levels of THC is to have two-headed trichomes. I suspect that there are plants that have three heads on the trichomes, but nobody has reported any yet.
I was surprised that the trichomes are fluorescent under special blue lights. The trichomes fluoresce white while the leaves fluoresce red due to the chlorophyll. I suspect that someone will pick up the idea of measuring the potency of a plant by measuring the fluorescence of the mature buds.
MV: What has been the reaction to the book so far? Do you get different reactions from people depending on their own backgrounds and interests?
TK: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Surprisingly, I do not imbibe in the bud. Lots of people have made jokes about me writing a book about cannabis. Then there are the people that take me aside and tell me how they use CBD and love it. The culture has changed so much in the last few years, it is hard to believe. There are already a lot of very good books about cannabis, but I believe that this book is different and is a positive addition to the study of cannabis.
MV: The false coloring is part of what makes these pictures so fascinating. How much of what we’re looking at is “real” and how much is generated for effect?
TK: SEM pictures are black and white, so all the images had to have color added by hand using Photoshop. This is a very time-consuming process and can take several hours per image. To select the colors, I tended for bright, happy, party colors. I felt it made the pictures look a lot more exciting.
In reality, the plant is different shades of green with the glandular trichome tops clear or milky white. I originally wanted to call the book, Fifty Shades of Green, but the name was already taken by several other books. In editing the images, I made three or four different color combinations and picked the one that I thought was the most exciting. Now that the book is done, I would like to go back and change a few colors, but I have to let it go.
MV: How does cannabis compare to other objects you’ve photographed at this microscopic level?
TK: Cannabis was fairly straightforward after I figured out the liquid nitrogen-cooled stage that kept the plant from changing shape in the high vacuum of the scanning electron microscope. I routinely photograph very difficult subjects. I just finished a project working with bacteria from hot springs in New Mexico. I am currently working on a project photographing micrometeorites. As a professor in photographic sciences at RIT, I often take pictures of bullets in flight moving faster than the speed of sound. I really love taking pictures of science where the image leads to a better understanding of the subject. I especially enjoy teaching the tools for students to do this sort of work on their own.