Each year, a panel of Nikon Small World judges awards cash prizes to microscope photographers for their best work.
“Scientists, photographers and hobbyists from 70 countries submitted more than 2,000 entries,” according to a Nikon press release. “Judges selected winners that exemplified artistic quality as well as exceptional scientific technique.” (I was a judge for the 40th year of the contest, and the selection process, while a privilege, was neither quick nor easy.)
Nikon on Wednesday revealed its top 10 ranked winners — each of which is featured below.
There’s still time to pick your favorite image and help decide the “Popular Vote” winner through October 25. Nikon will also release the winners of its “Small World in Motion” microscope video competition later this year.
10) A single-celled protist showing its ingested food, cilia, mouth, and trichocysts
Rogelio Moreno Gill of Panama says this 200X-magnified image of a single-celled Frontonia protist looks more “like a pizza” than a microbe.
“This image shows many details of the Frontonia: the mouth (at the lower right side), the cilia (around the Frontonia), the ingested foods (all the items with colors that we see inside the Frontonia) and the Trichocysts (around the internal part of the Frontonia),” Gill wrote in his photo entry.
9) Espresso coffee crystals
The photomicrograph was taken by artist and environmental scientist Vin Kitayama, who runs the Vinsanchi Art Museum in Japan, and his wife Sanae Kitayama.
“During my research, I discovered the mystery and beauty of natural design that is hidden in one small drop of coffee,” Vin wrote in his photo entry. “The natural gold color in this photograph reminds me of the beautiful gold that you sometimes can see in the finest traditional Japanese lacquer work, such as created by the famous artist, Korin, about three hundred years ago.”
The couple said the technique they used to take this photo was “developed over a long period” and took “a most difficult process” to get the espresso to crystallize. (Business Insider contacted Vin for more details, but he did not immediately respond.)
You can see filaments of crystallized chemicals — perhaps caffeine, which is white as a pure crystal — propping up cracked, golden blobs of cream, or coffee foam.
8) Wildflower stamens
Israel-based artist Monoson Yahud, a microscope photographer of 20 years, merged 100 different photos to create this image (magnified 40X).
“Only through a microscope,” Yahud wrote in his photo entry, can you see a flower’s true beauty.
7) Leaves of a lesser club moss
Zoologist, photographer, and journalist David Maitland took this image, which is magnified 40X. “I have a passion for invertebrates and plants — especially the aesthetic between form and function the sheer beauty of nature,” he wrote in his photo entry. “The majority of life on earth is tiny, and often invisible.”
6) Melted vitamin C crystals
A biologist by education, Marek Mis took this image (magnified 50X) after melting down ascorbic acid — known better as vitamin C — to find a rainbow-colored assortment of air bubbles.
5) Front foot of a male diving beetle
Although Igor Siwanowicz, a research scientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, normally studies the brains of dragonflies as they capture prey, he told Nikon that he’s captivated by other invertebrate animals, too.
To that end this image shows the front foot, or tarsus, of male diving beetle and its clusters of suction cups — devices the insect uses to stick to a female beetle for mating.
4) Butterfly proboscis, or tongue
Thailand-based micro-photographer Jochen Schroeder took this photo of a butterfly’s mouth, which is actually a bunch of separate images merged together to reveal more detail.
3) Brain cells grown from human skin cells
This image from Rebecca Nutbrown, a neuroscience PhD student at University of Oxford, shows two different types of brain cells and their axons, or nerve fibers: neurons (stained green) grown from human skin cells, and Schwann cells (stained red) grown from a rodent. The cell bodies are stained blue.
“I am fascinated by how the microscope and fluorescence can reveal such complex beauty, completely missed by the naked eye,” Nutbrown said in a Nikon press release
2) Polished slab of Teepee Canyon agate
Seen at 90X magnification, this Teepee Canyone Agate is a 273-million-year-old slice of ocean sediments recovered from the Black Hills of western South Dakota.
Specimens like this “sometimes contain fossils or are replacements of fossil structures such as coral heads or sponges,” according to Nikon.
1) Four-day-old zebrafish embryo
Oscar Ruiz, a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, took this photo of a four-day-old zebrafish embryo — and it won the Nikon Small World contest’s grand prize.
Ruiz says he takes advantage of the zebrafish’s translucent face to study “genetic mutations that lead to cleft palate and cleft lip in humans,” according to a Nikon press release.
His ultimate goal? To build up an atlas of facial development that might “provide insight and lead to solutions for preventing and correcting facial deformities in people in the near future.”