These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail

Nikon’s Small World Photography Contest offers at up-close look at slime molds, insect wings, neurons and more

Red forest ant (Formica rufa)
Red forest ant (Formica rufa). This image was awarded honorable mention in this year's Nikon Small World contest. Fred Terveer/Nikon Small World

Images from Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition reveal wonders of the natural world usually hidden to the human eye. The 47th annual contest celebrates a type of photography called “photomicrography,” which blends art and science. Photographers used microscopes to capture objects in stunning detail—from the shape of tiny organoids to the structure of common household items.

Some finalists boosted the natural colors of their subject with stains or fluorescence to make certain features pop or combined and layered photographs to create a final image. The collection of photographs is a vibrant, abstract journey through scientific fields like cancer research, entomology, and neuroscience.

This year, more than 1,900 entries were received from 88 countries, and 20 winners were selected. Here is a selection images from the winners:

1st Place: “Trichome and stomata on a southern live oak leaf” by Jason Kirk

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
This year’s first place winner, a professional microscopist, captures the delicate structure of a southern live oak leaf, complete with its three vital structures: trichomes (white), stomata (purple), and vessels (cyan). Jason Kirk/Nikon Small World

3rd Place: “Rear leg, claw, and respiratory trachea of a louse (Haematopinus suis)” by Frank Reiser

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
Lice, a parasitic insect that lives on mammals and birds, either chew the hairs or feathers of their host to feed, or pierce the host's skin to slurp up blood and other secretions. Frank Reiser/Nikon Small World

4th Place: “Sensory neuron from an embryonic rat” by Paula Diaz

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
Sensory neurons carry signals from the body’s central nervous system and are found in animals’ eyes, skin, ears, tongue, and nose. Paula Diaz/Nikon Small World

7th Place: “Head of a tick” by Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley

7th Place: “Head of a tick” by Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley
Ticks are eight-legged arachnids like spiders, scorpions, and horseshoe crabs. Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley/Nikon Small World

10th Place: “Vein and scales on a butterfly wing (Morpho didius)” by Sébastien Malo

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
Morph didius, “the giant blue morpho,” is a neotropical butterfly with a wingspan or nearly six inches. Sébastien Malo/Nikon Small World

12th Place: “Breast organoid showing contractile myoepithelial cells (blue) crawling on secretory breast cells (red)” by Jakub Sumbal

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
Myoepithelial cells are found in sweat glands, mammary glands, lacrimal glands and salivary glands. Jakub Sumbal/Nikon Small World

13th Place: “Cotton fabric with pollen grains” by Felice Placenti

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
Pollen grains vary in shape and composition, but all pollen is formed in the male structure of seed-bearing plants. Felice Placenti/Nikon Small World

15th Place: “Diatom (Arachnoidiscus)” by Bernard Allard

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
These unicellular organisms exist in large water bodies across the world. One liter of seawater can contain as many as ten million diatoms. Bernard Allard/Nikon Small World

18th Place: “Table salt crystal” by Saulius Gugis

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
As revealed through a microscope, sodium chloride crystals form cubic patterns because of the tight ionic bonding of sodium and chloride ions. Saulius Gugis/Nikon Small World

20th Place: “Slime mold (Arcyria pomiformis)” by Alison Pollack

These Images Reveal Nature in Microscopic Detail
Slime molds aren’t plants, animals, or even fungus: they are single-celled, soil-dwelling amoebas that exist in almost any shape and color imaginable. Alison Pollack/Nikon Small World