See The Microscopic World In Motion

The 17 best micro-videos of the year show us the world invisible to the naked eye

For the past 30 years, Nikon has held a contest for the year’s best microphotography images, and competition has been fierce. In 2011, they brought those still images to life, creating a separate category for videos, called the Nikon Small World In Motion competition.

This year, the competition was judged by Paul Maddox, a biology professor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He had to choose from videos of a killer T-cell, a fruit fly’s locomotion, and stunning crystal formation to pick a winner that was original, informational, technically proficient, and visually striking. Today, Nikon announced the winning videos for the 2014 competition—check out all the finalists here.

The Mind Of A Sea Slug

WATCH THE VIDEO! Sea slugs don’t have a reputation for having a lot of brain power. But in this video, sped up 100 times, its neurons light up like Christmas lights. The lighter colored parts are end binding protein 3, which shows where the neurons are active.

Zebrafish Blood Flow

WATCH THE VIDEO! Zebrafish provide great models for researchers to study how vertebrates develop. In this video, Elliott Hagedorn looks at the blood flow in the tail of a two-day-old zebrafish. The blood vessels are stained red, and the red blood cells are stained green, bringing oxygen to the cells in the tail.

The Walk Of The Fruit Fly

WATCH THE VIDEO! To make this video, post-doctoral fellow Pushkar Paranjpe used a new computer program that can track a fruit fly’s trajectory and leg movements as it walks.

Melanoma On The Move

WATCH THE VIDEO! Melanoma, or skin cancer, is one of the deadliest types of cancer in humans because it can spread so quickly to other organs. In this video, a melanoma cell is blebbing, the process in which small spheres erupt on its surface before branching off into separate cells.

Mouse Kidney Protein Growth

WATCH THE VIDEO! Nils Lindstrom grows embryonic mouse kidneys in his lab. In order to better see how the proteins in those kidneys grew over time, he stained them various colors and photographed them every 20 minutes for two days. The resulting video allowed him to see that the proteins grow in a very branched formation.

Micromotors in Water And Hydrogen Peroxide

WATCH THE VIDEO! Micromotors are tiny inventions that can go directly to certain parts of the body to deliver drugs, take tissue samples, or do small surgical repairs. In this video, we can see them move gracefully through a water-based solution that has different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide added to it.

Sulfur Crystals

WATCH THE VIDEO! Elemental sulfur is solid at room temperature. When melted sulfur was placed between two pieces of glass, it solidifies into beautiful multicolored crystals.

Walk the (straight) line

WATCH THE VIDEO! When researchers look at life at the smallest scales, things get a little weird. Cell movements, especially in liquids, tend to be random and chaotic. Enzymes bound to a DNA motor would typically move chaotically through the liquid base, but in this video it moves in a strikingly linear path.

The Movements Of Lacrymaria olor

WATCH THE VIDEO! Lacrymaria olor is a protozoan about .1 mm long that lives in fresh water. It is named for its shape, which is thought to rather poetically resemble a swan’s tear, and can extend its “neck” up to seven times the length of its body, as is visible in this video.

White Blood Cells To The Rescue

WATCH THE VIDEO! White blood cells, or Leukocytes, flock to injured parts of the body in order to heal them. This video offers a rare view into how they flow in synthetic blood vessels.

T Cell vs Cancer

WATCH THE VIDEO! We may know T cells as the attack dogs of the immune system. But rarely do we get to see them face off against disease-causing cells. In this video, the T cell (orange) faces off against a cancer cell (blue) —and wins.

Hungry Hungry Rotifer

WATCH THE VIDEO! Rotifers, or wheel animals, are microorganisms that measure no more than half a millimeter and live mostly in freshwater environments. In this video, a rotifer probes its favorite meal of organic waste.

The Division Of Structural Cells

WATCH THE VIDEO! Vimentin is an important protein used in the cytoskeleton, the cells that give our bodies shape and structure. This video captures the whispy-looking protein going through mitosis in which the cells divide, sped up to 40 times its natural speed.

Nematode Cell Division

WATCH THE VIDEO! Nematodes, 1 mm-long worms, are simple organisms, so scientists love to study how they work. For this video, the researchers anesthetized a nematode larva and snapped a picture every 20 seconds as its cells divided and the animal grew. The pink parts are histones, proteins around which strands of DNA are wrapped, and the green parts are the protein tubulin.

Crystals Of Caffeine (2nd place)

WATCH THE VIDEO! Most of us are used to consuming our caffeine in liquids like coffee or tea, but it turns out that caffeine (like many organic compounds) can be made into crystals, given the right conditions. In this video, a drop of pure caffeine crystallizes in a solvent of water. The video is sped up; the reaction happened over the course of 40 minutes.

Zebrafish Inner Ear (1st place)

WATCH THE VIDEO! Zebrafish don’t look anything like humans, but they are a surprisingly good model for researchers to see how vertebrates develop. For this video, the researchers tracked the growth of a zebrafish’s lateral line, a sensory organ analogous to the mammalian inner ear that can sense how water moves around the fish. The researchers manipulated the fish’s genes to differentiate the colors of cells depending on their function (the sensory cells, as well as their support cells, are lighter in color) and created this time-lapse video over the course of 36 hours.