These Spectacular Microscopic Images Give You A Glimpse Into An Unknown World


Tom Hale

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

Dr Marcel Clemens. Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova. Verona, Italy. Rhigus nigrosparsus (tropical weevil). Image Stacking. 10x (objective lens magnification)

The unseen microscopic world is a mighty fine place to look, as well as ripe with scientific intrigue. Nikon has just released the winning images from their 43rd annual Small World Competition, celebrating the weird and wonderful land of the very tiny.

The top prize was handed to Dr Bram van den Broek and his team from the Netherlands Cancer Institute for an image of a skin cell expressing an excessive amount of keratin (image below). Not only does this image look absolutely stunning, it shows off some of the most advanced imaging technology available.


“There are more than 50 different keratin proteins known in humans. The expression patterns of keratin are often abnormal in skin tumor cells, and it is thus widely used as a tumor marker in cancer diagnostics," said Dr van den Broek. "By studying the ways different proteins like keratin dynamically change within a cell, we can better understand the progression of cancers and other diseases.”

1st place. Dr Bram van den Broek, Andriy Volkov, Dr Kees Jalink, Dr Nicole Schwarz & Dr Reinhard Windoffer/The Netherlands Cancer Institute, BioImaging Facility & Department of Cell Biology in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Immortalized human skin cells (HaCaT keratinocytes) expressing fluorescently tagged keratin.

This year, over 2,000 people from 88 different countries entered. A panel of scientists and science-journalists picked the best images based on their scientific and aesthetic value.

Dr Havi Sarfaty snapped up second place for his photo of a flowering head of a plant (image below). Dr Sarfaty is a veterinary ophthalmologist and has been taking photos through a microscope for about eight years. Although his interest in microphotography began with the eye surgeries he performed, he also likes to look at objects he finds in his garden.

Third prize was given to Jean-Marc Babalian for an image (second image below) that depicts a living volvox algae releasing its daughter colonies. In case you missed it, it also looks like the much-loved video game PacMan.


Last month, Nikon also revealed the winning videos for their seventh annual Small World in Motion Photomicrography Competition. You can check out those right here. But first, make sure you take a deep look at some of the other winners and notable entries from this year's photography contest below – they are absolutely mind-blowing.

2nd place. Dr Havi Sarfaty. Eyecare Clinic Yahud-Monoson, Israel Senecio vulgaris (a flowering plant) seed head. Stereomicroscopy 2x
3rd Place: Jean-Marc Babalian. Nantes, France. Living Volvox algae releasing its daughter colonies. Differential Interference Contrast. 100x
10th Place: Dr. Csaba Pintér. University of Pannonia, Georgikon Faculty, Department of Plant Protection. Keszthely, Hungary. Phyllobius roboretanus (weevil). Stereomicroscopy, 80x
14th Place: David Millard. Austin, Texas, USA. Common Mestra butterfly (Mestra amymone) eggs, laid on a leaf of Tragia sp. (Noseburn plant). Incident Illumination. Image Stacking. 7.5x (objective lens magnification
15th place. Rick Adams. University of Northern Colorado, Department of Biological Sciences. Greeley, Colorado, USA. 3rd trimester fetus of Megachiroptera (fruit bat). Darkfield, Stereomicroscopy 18x
18th Place: Christian Gautier. Biosphoto. Le Mans, France. Synapta (sea-cucumber) skin. Polarized Light, 100x
20th place. "Microbial Sunset." Tracy Scott. Ithaca, New York, USA. Aspergillus flavus (fungus) and yeast colony from soil. Transmitted Light  40x 


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