15 Psychedelic Pics Of Microscopic Worlds

A contest invites you to vote for your favorite. Will it be a pole-vaulting head louse Olympian or another’s chance to make it big?

Quick, pick your favorite: a pole-vaulting head louse, schizocarp on spreading hedge parsley, or a massive yellow mimosa flower? The contestants for the Grand Prize Winner of the FEI Image Contest 2013 have been announced. Until October 4, you can vote for your favorite of a dozen gorgeously colorized psychedelic images of the microscopic worlds all around us.


Every year, FEI Company, a lead manufacturer of electron microscopes for nanoscale research, partners with National Geographic in an image contest to see what customers are getting up to with their microscopes. Now, out of 315 submissions, finalists compete for two round-trip airline tickets to any U.S. destination.

John Williams, VP of Marketing at FEI Company, tells Co.Design, “Most submitters are scientists or researchers, but are likely using the contest to explore their more creative side. They blend the science of the microscope and the sample with an artistic eye. After capturing the image, most will then colorize the image using commercial photo treatment software to give it their final artistic touch.”

Microscopic beasts loom large in these photos: A serious contender in the lice Olympics pole vaults on two human hairs. The aquatic larva of an Asian tiger mosquito is colorized in bug juice-green and brilliant orange in a photo of its mouthparts magnified 800x. (My, what big teeth you have.) The Doctor Seussian helichrysum italicum flower with pollens waves against a clear blue sky. Magnified 1000x, a cigarette filter looks like sinister tentacles reaching for prey.

“The contestants use one of our microscopes to capture the image in much the same way that a photographer does, but with ours the subject is inside the microscope chamber, held under vacuum. Like a photographer, the electron microscope operator positions the subject and adjusts various parameters that affect field of view, focus, and contrast,” says Williams.

This year, these images will be part of a National Geographic film, Mysteries of the Unseen World, out November 1st, about all the things on our planet that are invisible to the human eye–either too fast, too slow, or too small. They’ll also be included in the iPad app accompanying the film.

So, the polls are open: will the giant louse win? The trippy pom-pom immune cells? The ice-world of a magnified snap-off blade? Take your pick and place your vote.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.