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  • The bold and the beautiful – on the microscale

Feb 2012

Microscopic imaging is not just about science; it can be an art, too. The microscale world is breathtaking, comical and strange, and the winning images from the 2011 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition show off scientists’ efforts to capture not only data but also the beauty of that tiny world.

Taking fifth prize in the competition is this image of live green brain coral (Goniastrea sp.) under water. The purple color is the natural fluorescence of the coral, except for near-violet LED illumination that was used to highlight some nearly transparent tissue. One full coral polyp is shown in the center with four surrounding polyps. Photographer: James Nicholson, NOAA/NOS/NCCOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health & Biomolecular Research, Fort Johnson Marine Lab in Charleston, S.C.

Sponsored by Olympus America Inc. of Center Valley, Pa., the competition – now in its eighth year – honors images and movies of human, plant and animal subjects as they are captured through light microscopes. Photographers are allowed to use any magnification level, illumination technique or brand of equipment.

This first-place photo looks like a mouse but actually depicts a water creature – a rotifer Floscularia ringens – rapidly beating its cilia to bring in water that contains food. The creature lives in reddish-brown tubes made of spherical “bricks,” one of which is being formed inside the creature’s body. Charles Krebs of Issaquah, Wash., used differential-interference-contrast illumination to capture the image, plus a special flash to freeze the motion of the cilia. Photos courtesy of their respective photographers and the 2011 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

The entries were judged based upon the science depicted, the beauty and impact of the image, and demonstrated technical expertise. More than 2000 images and photos were submitted in the 2011 competition.

Representing life’s small-scale wonders are these diatoms, a form of algae, which are arranged in a bicycle formation. The photo earned Steve Lowry of Portstewart, UK, an honorable mention.

First prize is the winner’s choice of an Olympus microscope or camera equipment valued at $5000; nine other winners receive prizes as well, and numerous images receive honorable mentions.

The entry deadline for the next competition is Sept. 12. For information, visit

A single mast cell is shown in a human eye suffering from conjunctivitis. Donald Pottle at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston earned honorable mention for this photo.

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