9 stunning pictures of the microscopic realm

A crystallized dinosaur bone and a gecko's foot are among the winners of Nikon's 2022 Small World competition.
The hand of a day gecko, showing bones, tissues, and cells.
A tool called a confocal microscope, plus dye stains, captured the biological details of this gecko hand. Grigorii Timin & Michel Milinkovitch/Nikon's Small World Photomicrography Contest

Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition celebrates the beauty of what we cannot see—unless we have the help of extreme magnification. The contest, which has been running for nearly 50 years, is open to anyone with an eye for the minuscule and a microscope. This year’s winning images include moth eggs stacked in a column, a hump of slime mold, and a slice of crystallized dinosaur bone.

The first-place photo (above) is the foot of an embryonic lizard—Phelsuma grandi, a Madagascar giant day gecko—created by Grigorii Timin at the University of Geneva under the supervision of biologist Michel Milinkovitch. Hundreds of images, representing 200 gigabytes of data, were stitched together to show nerves (in cyan), bones, blood cells, and other tissues. Even though the foot is only about 3 millimeters long, acquiring all those images took more than two days, Timin said in a news release.

And if movement in miniature tickles your fancy, be sure to check out the top videos from the 2022 Small World in Motion Competition, too.

11th place. Moth eggs captured through a 10x objective lens. Ye Fei Zhang/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition
3rd place. Blood vessel networks in the intestine of an adult mouse captured through a 10x objective lens. Satu Paavonsalo & Sinem Karaman, University of Helsinki/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition
13th place. Agatized dinosaur bone captured through a 60x objective lens. Randy Fullbright/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition

[Related: This may be the highest resolution microscope we’ll ever get]

2nd place. Breast tissue showing contractile myoepithelial cells wrapped around milk-producing alveoli, captured through a 40x objective lens. Caleb Dawson, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition
5th place. Slime mold (Lamproderma) captured through a 10x objective lens. Alison Pollack/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition
10th place. A fly under the chin of a tiger beetle captured through a 3.7x objective lens. Murat Öztürk/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition
7th place. Human neurons derived from neural stem cells captured through a 20x objective lens. Jianqun Gao & Glenda Halliday, University of Sydney/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition
6th place. Unburned particles of carbon released when the hydrocarbon chain of candle wax breaks down, captured through a 2.5x objective lens. Ole Bielfeldt/Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition