Tear Films

The human eye has a thin tear film over its surface to maintain moisture and provide a smooth optical surface. The film consists of multiple layers: a lipid layer at the air interface to decrease surface tension and delay evaporation; an aqueous middle layer; and an inner layer of hydrophilic mucins that keep the film attached to the eye. The entire film is a few microns thick, with the lipid layer estimated to be only 50-100 nm thick and the mucin layer just a few tenths of a micron. The aqueous portion of the tear film is supplied from the lacrimal gland in the corner of the eye. In the animation above, the fresh aqueous fluid is fluorescent. It gathers in the corner of the eye several seconds after a blink due to reflex tearing. The tear fluid then flows around the outer edges of the eye until the subject blinks and the fresh tear gets distributed throughout the film. (Research credit: L. Li et al.; original video)

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