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Nikon Small World: The Tiny World of Microphotography

Super-resolution microscopic photography brings never-before-seen images to public view.

Discovering magnificence in photographs so detailed, we are swayed to think the subjects are otherworldly. Microscopic wonders abound all around us, dazzling us with their surreal beauty when captured on film. They appear as extraterrestrial landscapes, fantastical creatures, intricate patterns, and strange structures. What the public cannot see with the naked eye, individuals using super-resolution microphotography are bringing to light.

Fifth Place: Bogong moth. Ahmad Fauzan

Seventh Place: Microtubules (orange) inside a cell. Nucleus is shown in cyan. Jason Kirk

Honorable Mention: Freshwater snail tongue (radula). Dr. Igor Siwanowicz

Recently, Nikon Instruments announced the winners of the forty-sixth annual Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition. Since 1974, the annual competition has been open to anyone interested in photography, including scientists, artists, and hobbyists. This year’s judging panel consisted of scientists, journalists, and photographers who selected twenty winning images based on the best combination of originality, informational content, technical proficiency, and visual impact.

Image of Distinction: Body of a Chaoboridae larvae with nervous system and fat droplets. Anne Gleich

Image of Distinction: Short-tailed fruit bat embryo (Carollia perspicillata). Zuzana Vavrušová & Dr. Richard R. Behringer

Honorable Mention: Phantom midge larva. Christopher Algar

First Place Winner

The top prize was awarded to Daniel Castranova, assisted by Bakary Samasa, as they worked in Dr. Brant Weinstein’s laboratory at the National Institutes of Health. The winning entry of a full-bodied juvenile zebrafish was artfully rendered and a technically immaculate photograph. The zebrafish, suspended in a gel, had its bones and scales tinted blue and lymphatic vessels orange, highlighting its anatomy in a scientifically informative yet eye-pleasing way.

First Place: Dorsal view of bones and scales (blue) and lymphatic vessels (orange) in a juvenile zebrafish. Daniel Castravova, Dr. Brant Weinstein, and Bakary Samasa

This image also represents a groundbreaking find because it was taken as part of an imaging effort that helped Castranova’s team make a significant discovery — zebrafish have lymphatic vessels inside their skull previously thought to occur only in mammals. Their occurrence in fish, a much easier subject to raise, experiment with, and photograph, could expedite and revolutionize research leading to treatments for diseases occurring in the human brain, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Castranova assembled over 350 individual images to create this single stunning visual. “The image is beautiful, but also shows how powerful the zebrafish can be as a model for the development of lymphatic vessels,” says Castranova. “Until now, we thought this type of lymphatic system associated with the nervous system only occurred in mammals. By studying them, the scientific community can expedite a range of research and clinical innovations – everything from drug trials to cancer treatments. This is because fish are so much easier to raise and image than mammals.”

“For 46 years, the goal of the Nikon Small World competition has been to share microscopic imagery that visually blends art and science for the general public,” says Eric Flem, communications manager of Nikon Instruments. “As imaging techniques and technologies become more advanced, we are proud to showcase imagery that this blend of research, creativity, imaging technology, and expertise can bring to scientific discovery. This year’s first-place winner is a stunning example.”

Image of Distinction: Diatoms. Ken Schwarz & Dr. Osamu Oku

Tenth Place: Daphnia magna (Phyllopoda). Ahmad Fauzan

Other Finalists

The second-place winner was Daniel Knop for his image of a clownfish’s embryonic development taken on the first, third, fifth, and ninth days using image-stacking. The image shows the developmental progression, from hours after fertilization (a pack of sperm cells is still visible on top of the egg), until hours before hatching. Knop’s main challenge was to create sharp focus stacking pictures while the embryo was alive and moving.

Second Place: Embryonic development of a clownfish (Amphiprion percula) on days 1, 3 (morning and evening), 5, and 9. Daniel Knop

Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, an accomplished biochemist and neurobiologist, was awarded third place for an image of the tongue (radula) of a freshwater snail, using confocal microscopy. A Small World veteran, he has placed seventeen times in Nikon’s Small World Competition since 2011.

Third Place: Tongue (radula) of a freshwater snail. Dr. Igor Siwanowicz

Nikon Small World gave recognition to 88 photos out of thousands of entries, rounding out the Top 20, Honorable Mentions, and Images of Distinction. Be sure to view the full gallery of Nikon Small World Photomicrography winning images and be dazzled by a miniature world few have seen.

Sister Competition

Nikon Small World in Motion, a sister competition of Nikon Small World, was launched in 2011 in response to technological advances allowing the recording of movies or digital time-lapse photography taken through the microscope.