A group of grad students have invented a chemical formula called Visikol that makes animal tissue transparent. The technology has been available to research labs for over a year, but the researchers are now hoping to see it used to create works of art and as an educational tool.
To that end, the Rutgers PhD students have launched a Kickstarter. The new product is called TaxiClear, and they want to make it accessible to hobbyists and artists. Intrigued, I contacted lead researcher Michael Johnson to learn more.
“The goal of our kickstarter is to take Visikol out of the lab and use it as a tool to create beautiful works of art,” Johnson told io9. “With that being said, Visikol as a research chemical has been very successful and has been used on a wide range of tissues from plant roots to full mouse brains.”
He says that Visikol has been shown to be more effective at clearing mouse brains than chemicals almost ten times its cost. His team is currently in the process of working to clear human brains and to use Visikol as a tool to study neurology and various human health issues.
“By launching this kickstarter we would like to grow our TaxiClear brand of educational and artistic specimens and create kits for hobbyists to utilize,” he says. “In the research space, Visikol has a wide range of applications including pathology, histology, botany and a myriad of other applications that we are discovering every day.”
I asked him how it works.
“If we are to look at a bacterial cell under a microscope it is relatively translucent,” says Johnson. “This is because all of the components of that cell have the same refractive index and light is able to pass through it without being bent or distorted. The reason we cannot see through our hand is that the refractive index of the differing cellular components are different and the light is totally distorted making our hand non-translucent. Visikol permeates into tissues and makes the refractive index of differing cellular components the same and thus the tissue becomes translucent. We subsequently can stain the specimen to make the bones or cartilage different colors.”
He adds that Visikol is able to clear tissues many times more quickly than other chemicals. That way, it doesn’t alter the tissue. Other chemicals could take weeks to clear tissues that Visikol clears in days and other chemicals could enlarge or shrink tissues, he says.
“Additionally, Visikol is easier to work with, reduces the number of steps to clear and is typically more inexpensive than many other chemicals out there.”