A startling world not seen with the naked eye is revealed within the lens of a light microscope. From the glowing pollen tubes of the model plant thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) to spores of a soil fungus, this year’s winners of the Olympus Image of the Year Awards (IOTY) showcase the breathtaking intricacies of microscopic world.

This year’s global winning image was awarded to Jan Martinek from the Czech Republic for their close-up image of a thale cress flower with pollen tubes brianching through the flower’s pistil. Scientists use Arabidopsis thaliana as a model plant to study growth and development processes in plants and plant genetics.

Three other regional winners—divided into the Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe combined with Africa and the Middle East—were also announced. Additional honorable mentions were awarded to photos of fruit fly ovaries, an embryonic zebrafish nervous system, and a mouse brain. 

Contestants could upload up to three photos. While the microscope didn’t have to be Olympus branded, images had to be taken using a light microscope or other devices featuring optical light technology. Expert jurors picked the most astonishing images based on artistic flare, visual detail, scientific impact, and microscope expertise, reports Anete Lusina for Peta Pixel. Microscopic images were accepted from October 18, 2021 to March 1, 2022.

The Global Winner — Jan Martinek

An image of the plant arabidosis thaliana under a microscope
The global winning image, taken by Jan Martinek, was captured after the flower's tissues were chemically treated to become transparent and the pollen tubes were stained with aniline blue to give it the yellow fluorescence pictured. Jan Martinek

Americas Regional Winner — Ivan Radin

A microscopic image of moss and its protonemal cells
Ivan Radin from the United States snapped this stunning image of moss (Physcomitrium patens). The image was taken using a confocal microscope, with various stacked images of the mosses' protonema cells found in its branched multicellular filaments. Protonoma cells initiate the accumulation of hormones that influence the growth of new cells. The visible cell walls were stained with calcoflur white, a type of fluorescent blue dye. The image was awarded the Americas Regional Winner. Ivan Radin

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa Regional Winner — Vasilis Kokkorisfrom

An image of spores of a soil fungus.
For the competition's Europe, Middle East and Africa region, the winning image, taken by Vasilis Kokkoris from the Netherlands, featured the multinucleate spores of a soil fungus, arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM). The AM spore is shown carrying hundreds of nuclei. AM are microorganisims that form mutalistic symbiosis with most plants. The fungi can aid plants with nutrient uptake and resistance to some abiotic stress factors. Vasilis Kokkoris

Asia-Pacific Regional Winner — Daniel Han

An image of spores along a fern leaf
Daniel Han's winning image for the Asia Region captured a fern's sori, or cluster of spore-producing receptacles that lie on the underside of its frond. One sorus is seen in the midst of splitting open and releasing spores. Daniel Han

Honorable Mention Awardees

A microscopic image of the ovaries of a fruit fly. The ovaries look like petals of a flower.
Yujun Chen from the United States won an honorable mention for their microscopic image of a fruit fly's ovaries. Yujun Chen
An image of blue, star-shaped defensive hairs covering the surface of a Deutzia leaf.
David Maitland from the United Kingdom won honorable mention for an image of star-shaped defensive hairs on the surface of a Deutiza leaf. The bright blue and lavender starbursts appear against the backdrop of the leaf's red-fluorescing cells. David Maitland
A microscopic image of a mouse brain its neurons.
Yayun Wang from China was awarded honorable mention for this vibrant image of GABA neurons in a mouse brain. Yayun Wang
A microscopic image of the flowering plant milkworts
Mingyue Jia from China won honorable mention for a confocal microscopy image of polygala, the flowering plant known as milkworts or snakeroots. Maximum projection was used to capture the image. Mingyue Jia
An image of two cells seperating. The semi-seperated cells are red and are forming a heart-to-heart shape
Honorable mention was awarded to Di Lu from China for their image of semi-seperated nuclei of two cells splitting to form a heart-to-heart shape. Di Lu
A microscopic and symmetrical image of the tongue of an Astraea conehead snail
Igor Siwanowiczfrom from the United States won an honorable mention for his microscopic image capturing the symmetry of an Astraea conehead snail tongue. The specimen was stained with Congo red, per Peta Pixel, and imaged with a 10x 0.45NA objective lens. Igor Siwanowiczfrom
A colorful microscopic image of the nervous system of a developing embryonic zebrafish.
Layra Cintron-Rivera from the United States won honorable mention for their colorful image of the developing nervous system of a zebrafish six days after fertilization. Layra Cintron-Rivera