Chaetoceros debilis (marine diatom), a colonial plankton organism

Mr. Wim van Egmond
1st Place
Micropolitan Museum
Berkel en Rodenrijs, Zuid Holland, The Netherlands
Differential Interference Contrast, Image Stacking
250X

Chrysemys picta (painted turtle) retina

Dr. Joseph Corbo
2nd Place
Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Differential Interference Contrast
400X

Marine worm

Dr. Alvaro Esteves Migotto
3rd Place
Universidade de São Paulo, Centro de Biologia Marinha
São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Stereomicroscopy, Darkfield
20X

Paramecium sp. showing the nucleus, mouth and water expulsion vacuoles

Mr. Rogelio Moreno Gill
4th Place
Panama City, Panamá
Differential Interference Contrast
40X

Hippocampal neuron receiving excitatory contacts

Dr. Kieran Boyle
5th Place
University of Glasgow, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.
Fluorescence and Confocal
63X

Chamaeleo calyptratus (veiled chameleon), embryo showing cartilage (blue) and bone (red)

Miss Dorit Hockman
6th Place
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, U.K.
Brightfield

Adhesive pad on a foreleg of Coccinella septempunctata (ladybird beetle)

Dr. Jan Michels
7th Place
Institute of Zoology, Functional Morphology and Biomechanics, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Kiel, Germany
Confocal, Autofluorescence
20X

Epi-autofluorescence under UV light, z-stack reconstruction

Ms. Magdalena Turzańska
8th Place
University of Wrocław
Institute of Experimental Biology, Department of Plant Developmental Biology, University of Wrocław
Wrocław, Poland
Barbilophozia sp. (a leafy liverwort, bryophyte plant) and cyanobacteria
50X

Insect wrapped in spider web

Mr. Mark A. Sanders
9th Place
University Imaging Centers, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Confocal, Autofluorescence, Image Stacking
85X

Thin section of a dinosaur bone preserved in clear agate

Mr. Ted Kinsman
10th Place
Department of Imaging and Photo Technology, Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, New York, USA
Focus Stacking
10X

Macrobrachium shrimp (ghost shrimp) eye

Miss Vitoria Tobias Santos
11th Place
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rodrigo Evo Devo Group
Macaé, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Stereomicroscopy
140X

Silicon dioxide on polydimethylglutarimide-based resist

Dr. Pedro Barrios-Perez
12th Place
CPFC (nanofabrication), National Research Council of Canada/Information and Communication Technologies
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Bright field microscopy
200X

Mouse vertebra section

Dr. Michael Paul Nelson and Samantha Smith
13th Place
Department of Pathology/Neuropathology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Focus Stacking
200X

Peripheral nerves in E11.5 mouse embryo

Mr. Zhong Hua
14th Place
Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Confocal
5X

Podospora anserina (fungus) filamentous tip cells

Dr. Christian Q. Scheckhuber
15th Place
Goethe University
Frankfurt, Germany
Fluorescence
630X

Pityohyphantes phrygianus (sheet weaver spider) with a parasitic wasp larva on the abdomen

Mr. Geir Drange
16th Place
Asker, Norway
Reflected Light, Focus Stacking
5X

Pyramidal neurons and their dendrites visualized in the visual cortex of a mouse brain

Dr. Alexandre William Moreau
17th Place
Institute of Neurology, University College London
London, U.K.
2-Photon, Focus Stacking, Fluorescence, Patch clamp
40X

Annelid larva

Mr. Christian Sardet
18th Place
Department of Life Sciences, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
Darkfield
100X

Nerve and muscle thin section

Dr. David Ward
19th Place
dgward.com
Oakdale, California, USA
Brightfield, Image Stacking
40X

The explosive dynamics of sugar transport in fat cells

Dr. James Burchfield
20th Place
The Garvan Institute
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Live Cell Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence

20 Of The Year's Best Microscopic Images

Each year, Nikon hosts the biggest competition in tiny photography. Here are the winners.

Traditional microscopes work much like our eyes do. They see the world through reflected photons, or bouncing particles of light. And so the resulting images, as unbelievable as they may appear, intrinsically resemble something you're inspecting for a closer look—even if that look is magnified 250x.

It’s the photons that make Nikon’s annual Small World Competition (now in its 39th year) so fun to watch. The 20 winning images are the result of ingenious hacks in precision optics, juggling multiple mirrors, lenses, prisms, and visible wavelengths to bring the tinier world to light through powerful microscope-camera hybrids and clever post-processing.

Image: Chaetoceros debilis by Wim van Egmond

The winning shot is by Wim van Egmond—a 20-time finalist in this competition—who captured a Chaetoceros debilis colonial plankton organism at 250 times its normal size. It wasn’t as simple as holding his iPhone up to a drop of water and applying the Hefe filter, of course. The photo required the use of what’s called differential interference contrast microscopy (a complex chain of light, prisms, lenses, and filters) along with image stacking of 90 different exposures, meaning the in-focus sections of nearly 100 different multiple differential interference contrast microscopy shots were combined to create this single sharp image.

"I approach micrographs as if they are portraits," Egmond has said. "The same way you look at a person and try to capture their personality, I observe an organism and try to capture it as honestly and realistically as possible."

Image: Marine Worm by Dr. Alvaro Esteves Migotto

"At the same time," he added, "this image is about form, rhythm, and composition. The positioning of the helix, the directions of the bristles, the subdued colors and contrast all bring together a balance that is both dynamic and tranquil."

Egmond’s peers offered incredibly varied work. Other finalists include the X-ray-like nerves inside a mouse embryo, the Silly-String-esque horror of an insect trapped in a spider’s web, and the explosively radiant process of sugar being transported within a fat cell (and you thought sugar just tasted good). The stunning collection—which you can explore in full in our gallery above—is a humbling reminder that just because something may be much smaller than ourselves, that doesn’t make it any less beautiful, haunting, or significant.

Read more here.

[Image: Wim van Egmond]

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