Winning Images Of Nikon's Small World Competition 2021 Are Mind-Blowing


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Small World.

The winner of the 2021 comp. Image credit: Jason Kirk/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.

Take a peek at the beautiful world found beneath the microscope with this year’s Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.

This year marks the 47th annual photomicrography competition from Nikon Instruments Inc, the world's longest-running microscopy image competition, and the winners are as bewilderingly stunning as ever. 


“Nikon Small World was created to show the world how art and science come together under the microscope. This year’s first place winner could not be a better example of that blend,” Eric Flem, Communications Manager at Nikon Instruments, said in a statement.

This year’s top prize was swooped by Jason Kirk for his image (above) showing the microscopic works of a southern live oak leaf, including its trichomes, stomata, and vessels. Trichomes (seen in white) are hair-like structures that help to protect plants. Stomata (in purple) are the teeny holes that allow carbon dioxide, water vapor, and oxygen to flow in and out of the plant, while the vessels (cyan) simply transport water throughout the leafy plumbing.

2nd place. Image credit: Esmeralda Paric & Holly Stefen/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.

Capturing this kind of image is no small feat, no pun intended. Jason took this image using a custom-made microscope system that snapped around 200 individual images of the leaf and stacked them together. It also required a complex arrangement of both transmitted and reflected light to highlight all three planet structures. The image was then subtle tweaked in post-production to further bring out these features. 

“The lighting side of it was complicated,” explained Jason, who also directs the Optical Imaging & Vital Microscopy (OiVM) Core at Baylor College of Medicine. “Microscope objectives are small and have a very shallow depth of focus. I couldn’t just stick a giant light next to the microscope and have the lighting be directional. It would be like trying to light the head of a pin with a light source that's the size of your head. Nearly impossible.”


The second prize was awarded to Esmeralda Paric and Holly Stefen for their cosmic image (above) showing hundreds of thousands of networking neurons. Despite looking like something you’d see down the end of a telescope, the microscopic picture actually shows a microfluidic device containing around 300,000 networking neurons separate in two sections. Between the two sections, axons can be seen bridging the gap.

Hog Louse.
3rd Place. Image credit: Frank Reiser/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.

Frank Reiser took the Third Prize for his razor-sharp image (above) of hog louse’s claw and innards.

Below you can see the remaining top 10 images picked out by this year’s judging panel, which included science communicator, author, and YouTuber Hank Green. 

If these teeny things tickled your fancy, you can see the winners of the Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition 2020 right here.

4th Place: Sensory neuron from an embryonic rat. Image credit: Paula Diaz/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Nikon Small World.
5th Place: Proboscis of a housefly. Image credit: Oliver Dum/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
6th Place: 3D vasculature of an adult mouse brain. Dr Andrea Tedeschi/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Small World.
7th Place: Head of a tick. Image credit: Dr. Tong Zhang & Dr. Paul Stoodley/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Nikky Nik nikon.
8th Place: Cross-section of mouse intestine. Image credit: Dr. Amy Engevik//Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
9th Place: Water flea (Daphnia), carrying embryos and peritrichs. Image credit: Jan van IJken/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
10th Place: Vein and scales on a butterfly wing (Morpho didius). Image credit: Sébastien Malo/Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.


  • tag
  • photography,

  • microscopy,

  • cells