For nearly half a century, Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition has celebrated the beauty captured by extreme magnification. This year, the photomicrography contest was stacked: a panel of journalists and scientists selected winners from 1,900 entries submitted by researchers and photographers in 72 countries. Subjects as diverse as mutant fish, chemical reactions, and a speck of space rock became works of art when seen really, really up close.
Above, in first place, is a rodent’s optic nerve head. Blood vessels, each only 110 microns in diameter, radiate outward like the fizzing arms of a firework. The yellow star-like shapes surrounding the vessels are astrocytes, cellular helpers that maintain neuronal systems. Vision researchers at the Lions Eye Institute in Perth, Australia—Hassanain Qambari, assisted by Jayden Dickson—imaged the optic disc at 20x magnification as part of a study of diabetic retinopathy; this condition can cause blindness in people with diabetes.
“The visual system is a complex and highly specialized organ, with even relatively minor perturbations to the retinal circulation able to cause devastating vision loss,” Qambari said in a news release. “I entered the competition as a way to showcase the complexity of retinal microcirculation.” Below are other top photos, and you can see even more at Nikon’s Small World site.