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Small World winners highlight the art of photomicrography

Jan 2014
What do a diatom, a turtle retina, a marine worm, a paramecium, a neuron and a chameleon embryo all have in common? Well, they all look pretty under a microscope – and they’re the subjects of the top six winners in the 2013 Nikon Small World Photo-micrography Competition.

First prize went to longtime competitor Wim van Egmond of the Netherlands for his image Chaetoceros debilis (marine diatom), a colonial plankton organism; the image blends art and science to capture the complexity and stunning detail of this fragile helical chain. Egmond is a freelance photographer and artist with a passion for aquatic microorganisms, and he has had 20 still images recognized as finalists in the competition over the last decade.

For this year’s winning entry, he used a partial image stack of more than 90 images. Forgoing traditional bright, saturated colors, he adjusted the illumination to create a subdued, blue background to contrast with the natural yellow-brown color of the diatom.

“I approach micrographs as if they are portraits. The same way you look at a person and try to capture their personality, I observe an organism and try to capture it as honestly and realistically as possible,” Egmond said. “At the same time, this image is about form, rhythm and composition. The positioning of the helix, the directions of the bristles, the subdued colors and contrast all bring together a balance that is both dynamic and tranquil.”

More than 100 other winners from around the world were recognized this year for excellence in photomicrography. “This competition brings together some of the top talent from around the world, from all walks of life and scientific disciplines, with more and more incredible entries submitted each year,” said Eric Flem, communications manager for Nikon Instruments. “After 39 years, we are proud to watch the competition continue to grow, allowing us to honor this pool of talented researchers, artists and photomicrographers, and showcase the importance and beauty of the work they do in the realm of scientific imaging.”

But you don’t have to be a scientist: The competition is open to anyone with an interest in photography. The top five images this year vary greatly in subject matter, technique and scientific discipline, but together they demonstrate the artistic skill and technical prowess of the photomicrographers behind them.

The top six photomicrographs are printed here, courtesy of the artists and Nikon. To see more winning photomicrographs, visit

1. Wim van Egmond, Micropolitan Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands, Chaetoceros debilis; techniques: differential interference contrast and image stacking at 250×.

2. Dr. Joseph Corbo, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Chrysemys picta (painted turtle) retina; technique: differential interference contrast at 400×.

3. Dr. Alvaro Esteves Migotto, Universidade de São Paulo, Centro de Biologia Marinha, Brazil, marine worm; technique: dark-field stereomicroscopy at 20×.

4. Rogelio Moreno Gill, Panama City, Paramecium sp. showing nucleus, mouth and water expulsion vacuoles; technique: differential interference contrast at 40×.

5. Dr. Kieran Boyle, University of Glasgow, Scotland, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, hippocampal neuron receiving excitatory contacts; techniques: fluorescence and confocal microscopy at 63×.

6. Dorit Hockman, University of Cambridge, England, Chamaeleo calyptratus (veiled chameleon) embryo showing cartilage (blue) and bone (red); technique: bright-field microscopy.

Biophotonicsdifferential interference contrastimagingLaura S. MarshallNikon InstrumentsphotomicographyPost ScriptsAmericas Europe2013 Nikon Small World Photomicography CompetitionWim van EgmondEric Flemimage stacking

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