Hawaiian bobtail squid
This baby Hawaiian bobtail squid is only 1.5 cm across. It has a bioluminescent light organ filled with glowing bacteria that it uses to camouflage itself from as it hunts. The squid controls how much light is released using an ink sac, visible here as a dot in the squid's mantle. Mark R Smith, Macroscopic Solutions

Mouse Retina

This is a composite of 400 images stitched together to show the intricacies of a mouse retina, which is only 3-4 mm across. Blood vessels are in blue while nerve cells are in red and green. Researchers are looking into whether the functions of nerve cells change as vision degrades.

For two decades, Wellcome Images has presented awards to the best scientific and medical images that enter its collection each year. This year’s collection is stunning, with portraits, illustrations, and microphotography vying with 3D models and scans for the title of overall winner. Individual awards for these winners and the grand prize winner will be announced on March 15.

These 22 images were selected by nine science communicator experts, but you can have a voice too. Vote for your favorite before August 31, and you’ll have a chance to win a print of one of these incredible images for yourself.


Breast Cancer and Twitter

Researchers collected 92,915 tweets containing the hashtag #breastcancer over an eight-week period, then graphed relationships between tweets and users. At the top, a “double yolk” structure shows mentions of two accounts.

Cat skin and hair

A sample of cat skin and hair (from a Victorian-era slide) shows hairs and whisker in yellow and blood vessels in black. This image was captured using polorized light microscopy.

Developing spinal cord

This microscopic image highlights (in blue) different parts of a mouse’s neural tube, the embryonic start of a spinal cord. The neural tube is highlighted to the left. That would become the brain, nerves, and spine. The middle shows the mesoderm, which develops into rogans, and the right shows the ectoderm, which grows into skin, hairs, and teeth.

Hawaiian bobtail squid

This baby Hawaiian bobtail squid is only 1.5 cm across. It has a bioluminescent light organ filled with glowing bacteria that it uses to camouflage itself from as it hunts. The squid controls how much light is released using an ink sac, visible here as a dot in the squid’s mantle.

Language in the brain

This 3D model shows the white matter linking two different sections of the brain, both of which control language and speech. This link is called the arcuate fasciculus. Researchers captured it by scanning a brain using an MRI machine and tracking the movement of water along the link. Then they printed a model of that scan using a clear resin. The colors in this image come from lights used to illuminate the model.

Intraocular lens ‘iris clip’

A photograph showing the placement of a intraocular lens ‘iris clip’ during surgery. The acrylic or plastic clip can help treat cataracts and nearsightedness. In this case, it helped a 70-year-old man regain his sight.

MicroRNA scaffold cancer therapy

A scanning electron microscope captures a scaffold built out of an artificial polymer and two short genetic sequences—microRNAs—that may be able to target and stop cancer cells in the body. The treatment is still under development.

Pigeon thermoregulation

A CT scan of a pigeon injected with the contrast agent BriteVu shows every blood vessel and capillary in the bird. The blood vessels help the pigeon control its body temperature.

A patient is treated by an eye doctor

An eye doctor treats a patient at a makeshift eye clinic in India.

Stickman – The Vicissitudes of Crohn’s (Resolution)

This digital illustration is the last in a series showing the life of the artist’s alter ego, Stickman. The artist suffers from Chron’s disease. Here, Stickman rebukes the artist for getting inspiration from his disease.

Rita Levi-Montalcini

This digital illustration depicts Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909–2012), an Italian neurobiologist. In 1938, Mussolini’s Manifesto of Race barred her from an academic career. Undaunted, she built a secret lab in her home and continued her research. After WWII she was invited to study and work in the United States. Her discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF) earned her a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986.

3D model of a healthy mini-pig eye

This 3D model of a healthy mini-pig eye took 39 hours to print on a 3D printer using the same hard plastic that goes into Lego blocks. It shows the vessels that connect the pig eye to the rest of the pig. The vessels were injected with a contrast medium to allow them to show up in a CT scan. The resulting data was then turned into a 3D model.

Two young boys in rural Nicaragua

These two boys are from Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, where half of adults have chronic kidney disease, many from working in the hot sun in sugarcane fields. The brothers have lost two cousins to the disease, and their mother still works in the fields.

Synthetic DNA channel transporting cargo across membranes

An illustration showing how a synthetic channel could be created to transport cargo, like vaccines, across cell membranes.

The Placenta Rainbow

This microscopic image shows mouse placentas at 12 days of gestation. The placentas, all from mice with different immune systems, are stained to show different proteins, which can indicate differences in gestation. From Wellcome images: “Blue represents the nucleus, where DNA is stored and controlled; blood vessels are stained in red; and trophoblasts, the first cells to form in the developing embryo, are stained in green. Additional colors are present due to an expression of two or more of these proteins in the same cell.”

Unravelling DNA

DNA unspools in this human lung cell during the natural process of cell division. This image is only 84 micrometres across.

‘Hidden Learning’, from the Chrysalis project

Chrysalis is a project at the University of St Andrews designed to bring women scientists together. This painting is a combination of women’s work. The veil is the molecular structure of sugar.

Zebrafish eye and neuromasts

A zebrafish embryo altered by CRISPR is shown in in this image. It has had a gene inserted that fluoresces when another gene (that researchers want to study) is activated. The eye—and cells call neuromasts that detect movement in the water—are in red. The nervous system is in blue-green.


Stem cells (in pink) grow nerve fibers (green). This was taken as a part of research seeking to develop ways of testing drugs on human cells without using humans. They hope this will make drug testing less expensive and more efficient.

Blood vessels of the African grey parrot

A 3D reconstruction of the blood vessels of an African grey parrot.

Caricatural medieval medical practitioners

Illustrations of past medical practices inspired by medieval medical works. From Wellcome: