Nikon Small World 2021 winners announced: Small in size, but big in beauty

Tips & Techniques

Nikon Small World is one of those contests that let us see just how much beauty can be hidden even in the tiniest of objects. The contest has announced its 2021 winners, and we bring you the gallery with this year’s stunning top twenty images.

The contest was founded in 1974 to recognize excellence in photography through the microscope. In 2011, its sister competition Nikon Small World in Motion was launched in response to technology advances, allowing us to shoot movies or digital time-lapse photography through the microscope. So, this year marks the 47th year of the photo and the 11th year of the video competition.

This year, the photo contest only received almost 1,900 entries from photographers across 88 countries. The jury evaluated them on originality, informational content, technical proficiency, and visual impact. But there can only be one first place. And this year, it was awarded to Jason Kirk for his striking image of a southern live oak leaf’s trichomes, stomata, and vessels.

To shoot his image, Jason used various lighting techniques and design tools. Using a custom-made microscope system that combines color-filtered transmitted light with diffused reflected light, he captured around 200 individual images of the leaf and stacked them together.

© Jason Kirk
Baylor College of Medicine
Optical Imaging & Vital Microscopy Core
Houston, Texas, USA
Trichome (white appendages) and stomata (purple pores) on a southern live oak leaf
Image Stacking
60X (Objective Lens Magnification)

“The lighting side of it was complicated,” Jason said about his process. “Microscope objectives are small and have a very shallow depth of focus. I couldn’t just stick a giant light next to the microscope and have the lighting be directional. It would be like trying to light the head of a pin with a light source that’s the size of your head. Nearly impossible.”

The photographer edited the color temperature and hue in post-production to better illustrate the various elements pictured. He used both transmitted and reflected light on opposite sides of the leaf to highlight three vital structures: trichomes in white, stomata in purple, and the colored in cyan are the vessels that transport water throughout the leaf. All three are essential to plant life.

Second place was awarded to Esmeralda Paric for her image of a microfluidic device containing hundreds of thousands of networking neurons. The primary neurons were extracted and cultured, then seeded and transduced with a virus. The particular image shows two populations separated but bridged, with different viral treatments. It was maintained for 30 days, immunostained, and tiled imaged.

© Esmeralda Paric & Holly Stefen
Dementia Research Centre, Macquarie University
Department of Biomedical Sciences
Macquarie Park, NSW, Australia
A microfluidic device containing 300k networking neurons in 2 isolated populations. Both sides were treated with a unique virus and bridged by axons.
Fluorescence
40X (Objective Lens Magnification)

The third place was captured by Frank Reiser for his picture of a rear leg, claw, and respiratory trachea of a hog louse (Haematopinus suis).

© Frank Reiser
Nassau Community College
Department of Biology
Garden City, New York, USA
Rear leg, claw, and respiratory trachea of a louse (Haematopinus suis)
Darkfield, Image Stacking
5X (Objective Lens Magnification)

Take a look at the rest of the top 20 images below, and make sure to visit Nikon Small World’s website for more information and even more stunning images. The 2021 video winners were announced on 16 August you can find them here. Oh, and take a look at the winners from previous years, too!

© Paula Diaz, 4th place
MinusPain, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
Department of Physiology
Santiago, Region Metropolitana, Chile
Sensory neuron from an embryonic rat
Fluorescence
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Oliver Dum, 5th place
Medienbunker Produktion
Bendorf, Rheinland Pfalz, Germany
Proboscis of a housefly (Musca domestica)
Image Stacking
40X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Dr. Andrea Tedeschi, 6th place
The Ohio State University / Wexner Medical Center
Department of Neuroscience
Columbus, Ohio, USA
3D vasculature of an adult mouse brain (somatosensory cortex)
Confocal
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Dr. Tong Zhang & Dr. Paul Stoodley, 7th place
The Ohio State University
Campus Microscopy & Imaging Facility
Columbus, Ohio, USA
Head of a tick
Confocal
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Dr. Tong Zhang & Dr. Paul Stoodley, 8th place
The Ohio State University
Campus Microscopy & Imaging Facility
Columbus, Ohio, USA
Head of a tick
Confocal
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Jan van IJken, 9th place
Jan van IJken Photography and Film
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands
Water flea (Daphnia), carrying embryos and peritrichs
Darkfield, Image Stacking
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Sébastien Malo, 10th place
Saint Lys, Haute-Garonne, France
Vein and scales on a butterfly wing (Morpho didius)
Image Stacking, Reflected Light
20X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Jason Kirk & Carlos P. Flores Suarez, 11th place
Baylor College of Medicine
Optical Imaging & Vital Microscopy Core
Houston, Texas, USA
Vasculature of a mouse retina
Confocal
20X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Jakub Sumbal, 12th place
Masaryk University
Department of Histology and Embryology
Brno, Czech Republic
Breast organoid showing contractile myoepithelial cells (blue) crawling on secretory breast cells (red)
Confocal
40X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Dr. Felice Placenti, 13th place
FP Nature and Landscape Photography
Siracusa, Sicilia, Italy
Cotton fabric with pollen grains
Darkfield, Image Stacking
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Dr. Joern N. Hopke, 14th place
Waban, Massachusetts, USA
Snowflake
Image Stacking
4X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Bernard Allard, 15th place
Club Français de Microscopie
Sucy-en-Bry, France
Diatom (Arachnoidiscus)
Brightfield, Image Stacking
40X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Ruohan Zhong, 16th place
Stowers Institute for Medical Research
Gibson Lab
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
An in vivo snapshot of the neurons surrounding the mouth and tentacles of a juvenile starlet sea anemone (Nematostella vectensis)
Fluorescence
20X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Martin Kaae Kristiansen, 17th place
My Microscopic World
Aalborg, Nordjylland, Denmark
Filamentous strands of Nostoc cyanobacteria captured inside a gelatinous matrix
Image Stacking, Polarized Light
4X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Saulius Gugis, 18th place
Naperville, Illinois, USA
Table salt crystal
Image Stacking, Darkfield, Oblique, Rheinberg, Polarized Light
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Billie Hughes, 19th place
Lotus Gemology 
Bangkok, Thailand
Calcite crystal inclusion suspended in a spinel gemstone
Darkfield, Image Stacking
40X (Objective Lens Magnification)

© Alison Pollack, 20th place
San Anselmo, California, USA
Slime mold (Arcyria pomiformis)
Image Stacking, Reflected Light
10X (Objective Lens Magnification)

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