See how beautiful the world can look through a microscope

A zebra fish “selfie,” a butterfly’s curly proboscis and the fangs of a centipede. Welcome to the beautiful — and sometimes strange — world of photomicrography.

Nikon Instruments has unveiled the winners of its annual Small World Contest. The images celebrate the intersection of art and science, revealing the amazing, minuscule details of the natural world.

The top image was created by Oscar Ruiz, who captured an extreme close-up of a 4-day-old zebra fish embryo. Ruiz studies facial development at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and he hopes zebra fish can help scientists learn how facial abnormalities, such as cleft lip and cleft palate, form in humans.

Ruiz developed innovative techniques for creating time-lapse images of the developing embryo’s face, which he uses to track the movement of facial cells as the fish grows. Knowing this can help pinpoint genetic mutations that give rise to facial deformities.

Other winning images captured magnified images of human neurons, mouse eye cells, intricately arranged microscopic zooplankton and the tiny scales of a butterfly’s wing. Although Nikon’s judges have already spoken, you can still vote for your favorite on the contest’s Facebook page.

Click on the gallery above or scroll down to see some of our favorite images from this year’s contest.

1st Place

Oscar Ruiz

Four-day-old zebra fish embryo

2nd Place

Douglas L. Moore

Polished slab of Teepee Canyon agate

3rd Place

Rebecca Nutbrown

Culture of neurons (stained green) derived from human skin cells and Schwann cells, a second type of brain cell (stained red)

4th Place

Jochen Schroeder

Butterfly proboscis

5th Place

Igor Siwanowicz

Front foot of a male diving beetle

7th Place

David Maitland

Leaves of Selaginella (lesser club moss)

11th Place

Francis Sneyers

Scales of a butterfly wing underside (Vanessa atalanta)

13th Place

Walter Piorkowski

Poison fangs of a centipede (Lithobius erythrocephalus)

14th Place

Keunyoung Kim

Mouse retinal ganglion cells

16th Place

Stefano Barone

Sixty-five fossil zooplankton carefully arranged by hand in Victorian style

16th Place

Jose Almodovar

Slime mold

18th Place

Pia Scanlon

Parts of wing-cover (elytron), abdominal segments and hind leg of a broad-shouldered leaf beetle (Oreina cacaliae)

Honorable mentions and images of distinction

Charles Krebs

Tail of a small shrimp

Jacek Myslowski 


Igor Siwanowicz

Gears coupling the hind legs of a planthopper nymph.

Erno Endre Gergley

Green bottle fly

James Hayden

Air bubbles evaporating in tequila

Talley Lambert

Actin (pink), mitochondria (black), and DNA (red) in a bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cell.

Actin (pink), mitochondria (black), and DNA (red) in a bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cell.

Jacek Myslowski 

Water mite

Jochen Schroeder  

Wasp eyes

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