The best microscope photos of the year reveal a strange and hidden universe in astonishing detail

The Nikon Small World contest highlights the best microscope images taken each year.The 2019 contest attracted more than 2,000 entries from nearly 100 countries.This year’s top image is a picture of a turtle embryo awash with a rainbow of fluorescent colors.Other winners include a cross-section of a tulip bud, the eye of a housefly, and…

Human eyes may be remarkable tools to view the universe, but they also restrict our perception of reality to a limited, macroscopic slice.

Fortunately, microscopes grant us access to a fantastic, beautiful, and sometimes shocking universe that hides beyond the limits of vision.

To honor the mastery required to capture the microscopic world and appreciate its wonders, the Nikon Small World contest picks the best photographs taken through a microscope — and has done so each year for decades.

“Our goal has always been to show the world how art and science intersect,” Eric Flem, Nikon Instruments’ communications manager, said in a press release. “As new imaging and microscopy techniques develop over the years, our winners showcase these technology advances more and more creatively.”

For the 45th year of the contest, four judges reviewed more than 2,000 pictures submitted from nearly 100 countries. A little more than 100 photos stood out from the pack.

We’ve posted the top 20 below — including images of a fluorescent turtle embryo, a close-up of a housefly’s compound eye, and a psychedelic cross-section of a tulip flower bud (above) — along with 20 of our other favorites from the contest.

A fluorescent photo of a turtle embryo took first place. The photographers stacked and stitched together hundreds of images to fully capture every detail.

01 fluorescent turtle embryo microscope photo teresa zgoda kugler nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A fluorescent microscope photo of a turtle embryo.

Teresa Zgoda and Teresa Kugler/Nikon Small World


A trippy image of three stentors, a type of single-celled protozoa that lives in fresh water and feeds on algae, snagged second place.

02 three stentors projection igor siwanowicz microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

Microscopic projections of three stentors, a type of single-cell freshwater protozoa.

Dr. Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World


A photo showing a fluorescent alligator embryo came in third. The picture was taken just 20 days into the creature’s development, as nerves and a skeleton formed.

03 alligator embryo Daniel Smith Paredes bhart anjan bhullar microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A fluorescent microscope photo of an alligator embryo developing nerves and a skeleton.

Daniel Smith Paredes and Dr. Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar/Nikon Small World


Here are the rest of the top 20 selections, followed by 20 of our personal favorites:

10. Cells from the pulmonary artery of a young cow undergo the telophase stage of mitosis, in which they form two nuclei before dividing into two new cells.

10 bpae cells telophase mitosis jason kirk microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A confocal microscope photo of BPAE cells in the telophase stage of mitosis.

Jason M. Kirk/Nikon Small World


15. A pregnant freshwater crustacean called Daphnia magna.

15 pregnant daphnia magna crustacean marek mis microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A focus-stacked photo of a pregnant Daphnia magna, a small freshwater crustacean.

Marek Miś/Nikon Small World


17. A crystal of ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, reveals fascinating structures under a microscope.

17 vitamin c karl deckart microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A polarized-light photo of vitamin C.

Karl Deckart/Nikon Small World


In addition to those winners, 15 photos got honorable mentions. Here are the best ones, starting with this image of a moth wing.

HM alcides orontes moth wing ji yuan microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A focus-stacked microscope photo of an Alcides orontes moth wing.

Ji Yuan/Nikon Small World


A fossilized ammonite, a sea creature that went extinct about 66 million years ago.

HM fossil ammonites balint markus microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A stitched interference-contrast photo of fossilized ammonites, a mollusk that lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Dr. Balint Markus/Nikon Small World


Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and life, crystallized under a microscope.

HM crystallized amino acids justin zoll microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

Crystallized L-glutamine and beta-alanine amino acids.
Justin Zoll/Nikon Small World


Dozens more fantastic photos received recognition from the judges as “images of distinction.” This one shows eggs inside a brine shrimp.

IOD eggs inside brine shrimp omid golzar microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A focus-stacked photo of eggs inside a brine shrimp.

Dr. Omid Golzar/Nikon Small World


A single-celled organism called Paramecium caudatum that had been fed yeast cells stained with red dye.

IOD paramecium caudatum fed yeast anne gleich microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A microscopic differential-interference contrast photo of Paramecium caudatum, a single-celled organism, that had been fed stained yeast cells.

Anne Gleich/Nikon Small World


The deer-like antennae of a Haplomalachius flabellatus insect.

IOD haplomalachius flabellatus antenna can tuncer microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A focus-stacked photo of the antennae of a Haplomalachius flabellatus insect.

Can Tunçer/Nikon Small World


Myoepithelial cells wrapped around milk-producing sacs in a mouse’s mammary gland.

IOD myoepithelial cells mouse alveoli caleb dawson microscope photo nikon small world 2019 nsw2019

A 3D confocal microscopic image of myoepithelial cells wrapped around milk-producing alveoli in a lactating mouse.

Caleb Dawson/Nikon Small World


More:

Nikon Small World
Microscope Images
Photography
Contests

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