The Winners of Nikon’s ‘Small World’ Contest Reveal Tiny Technicolor Worlds

Nikon has unveiled the winners of the 2020 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition: our annual opportunity to witness the most beautiful images that straddle the intersection of stunning photography and groundbreaking science.

Top prize this year went to Daniel Castranova, assisted by Bakary Samasa, who were working in Dr. Brant Weinstein’s lab at the National Institutes of Health. Castranova captured what is described as an “artfully rendered and technically immaculate photo” of a young zebrafish with a fluorescent tags for the skeleton, scales, and lymphatic system.

The image was created by stacking and stitching over 350 individual images that were captured with a spinning disc confocal microscope, and it actually represents a scientific discovery. The image reveals lymphatic vessels in the fish’s skull—a feature that was previously thought to occur only in mammals.

Of course, you don’t have to know any of that to see that it’s also gorgeous:

Photo by Daniel Castranova, Dr. Brant Weinstein & Bakary Samasa | Nikon Small World

“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,” said Nikon Instruments Communications Manager Eric Flem. “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.”

Second place went to Daniel Knop for an image of the embryonic development of a clownfish.

This 5 image side-by-side composite was created by lining up stacked photos that were taken on days 1, 3 (morning and evening), 5, and 9 of the fish embryo’s development—an impressive achievement given that his subject was alive, and refused to sit still no matter how nicely Knop asked.

Photo by Daniel Knop | Nikon Small World

Third place was awarded to Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, who has actually placed in the Nikon Small World competition 17 times, including 1st place in 2011 and 2nd place in 2019. His photo of the tongue of a freshwater snail is another technicolor marvel made possible by confocal microscopy:

Photo by Dr. Igor Siwanowicz | Nikon Small World

Nikon recognized a total of 88 images this year—split into a Top 20, honorable mentions, and images of distinction. Scroll down to see the remaining images that made it into this year’s top 20, and then head over to the Nikon Small World competition website to explore the whole batch.

4th Place

Photo by Dr. Vasileios Kokkoris, Dr. Franck Stefani & Dr. Nicolas Corradi | Nikon Small World

Multi-nucleate spores and hyphae of a soil fungus (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus)

5th Place

Photo by Ahmad Fauzan | Nikon Small World

Bogong moth

6th Place

Photo by Dr. Robert Markus & Zsuzsa Markus | Nikon Small World

Hebe plant anther with pollen

7th Place

Photo by Jason Kirk | Nikon Small World

Microtubules (orange) inside a cell. Nucleus is shown in cyan.

8th Place

Photo by Dr. Allan Carrillo-Baltodano & David Salamanca | Nikon Small World

Chameleon embryo (autofluorescence)

9th Place

Photo by Jason Kirk & Quynh Nguyen | Nikon Small World

Connections between hippocampal neurons (brain cells)

10th Place

Photo by Ahmad Fauzan | Nikon Small World

Daphnia magna (Phyllopoda)

11th Place

Photo by Dr. Tagide deCarvalho | Nikon Small World

Red algae

12th Place

Photo by Robert Vierthaler | Nikon Small World

Human hair

13th Place

Photo by Justin Zoll | Nikon Small World

Crystals formed after heating an ethanol and water solution containing L-glutamine and beta-alanine

14th Place

Photo by Özgür Kerem Bulur | Nikon Small World

Leaf roller weevil (Byctiscus betulae) lateral view

15th Place

Photo by Dr. Eduardo Zattara & Dr. Alexa Bely | Nikon Small World

Chain of daughter individuals from the asexually reproducing annelid species Chaetogaster diaphanus

16th Place

Photo by Alexander Klepnev | Nikon Small World

Nylon stockings

17th Place

Photo by Anne Algar | Nikon Small World

Ventral view of an immature water boatman

18th Place

Photo by Chris Perani | Nikon Small World

Atlas moth wing

19th Place

Photo by Dr. Jan Michels | Nikon Small World

Silica cell wall of the marine diatom Arachnoidiscus sp.

20th Place

Photo by Dr. Dorit Hockman & Dr. Vanessa Chong-Morrison | Nikon Small World

Skeleton preparation of a short-tailed fruit bat embryo (Carollia perspicillata)


Image credits: All photos credited individually, used courtesy of the Nikon Small World Photomicroscopy Competition.




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