2021’s Best Photos of the Microscopic World

2021’s Best Photos of the Microscopic World
A close-up view of a louse's claw. (Image: Frank Reiser)

The winners of this year’s Nikon Small World Competition have been announced, showcasing the best microphotography that 2021 had to offer.

This is the 46th running of the annual competition, which recognises the year’s most outstanding microphotography across a wide range of scientific disciplines. A panel of judges selected 20 winning entries, and also images worthy of honourable mention and distinction.

Trichome and stomata

An oak leaf, showing trichomes and stomata, at 60-times magnification.  (Image: Jason Kirk) An oak leaf, showing trichomes and stomata, at 60-times magnification. (Image: Jason Kirk)

Biologist Jason Kirk from Baylor College of Medicine was awarded first place for this image of hair-like trichomes (shown in white) and stomata (the purple pores), as seen on a southern live oak leaf.

Your brain on microfluidics

Microfluidic device at 40-times magnification.  (Image: Esmeralda Paric Holly Stefen) Microfluidic device at 40-times magnification. (Image: Esmeralda Paric Holly Stefen)

Second place went to Esmeralda Paric and Holly Stefen from the Dementia Research Centre at Macquarie Park in Australia. Their image, colorized with fluorescence, shows a microfluidic device (a tool for managing the flow of liquids inside microscopic-sized channels) consisting of 300,000 networking neurons in two isolated brain samples.

Zoomed-in louse

A close-up view showing the claw and other features of a louse.  (Image: Frank Reiser) A close-up view showing the claw and other features of a louse. (Image: Frank Reiser)

This stunning image earned Frank Reiser of Nassau Community College the third-place prize in this year’s competition. The image, at five-times magnification, shows the rear leg, claw, and respiratory trachea of a louse (the singular for lice).

A sensory neuron

Sensory neuron from an embryonic rat.  (Image: Paula Diaz) Sensory neuron from an embryonic rat. (Image: Paula Diaz)

Using fluorescence, Paula Diaz from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile was able to show the finer details of a sensory neuron from an embryonic rat. The fourth-place image is shown as 10-times magnification.

Mouth of a fly

Proboscis of a housefly. (Image: Oliver Dum) Proboscis of a housefly. (Image: Oliver Dum)

This alien-like appendage is the proboscis, or mouth, of a common housefly (Musca domestica) shown at 40-times magnification. The fifth-place image was captured by Oliver Dum from Medienbunker Produktion in Germany.

Blood vessels in a mouse brain

3D vasculature of an adult mouse brain. (Image: Andrea Tedeschi) 3D vasculature of an adult mouse brain. (Image: Andrea Tedeschi)

Andrea Tedeschi of The Ohio State University won the sixth-place prize for an image showing the intricate — if not chaotic — three-dimensional vasculature of an adult mouse brain.

Tick head

Head of a tick. (Image: Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley) Head of a tick. (Image: Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley)

This seventh-place image, shown at 10-times magnification, reveals the weirdness that is a tick head.

Mouse guts

Cross section of a mouse intestine, shown at 10-times magnification.  (Image: Amy Engevik) Cross section of a mouse intestine, shown at 10-times magnification. (Image: Amy Engevik)

A cross-section section of a mouse intestine, as imaged by Amy Engevik from the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology at Medical University of South Carolina.

Pregnant water flea

Water flea at 10-times magnification.  (Image: Jan van IJken) Water flea at 10-times magnification. (Image: Jan van IJken)

A pregnant water flea carrying embryos and parasitic peritrichs (the white-coloured growths shown along its exterior portions). Jan van IJken of The Netherlands was awarded ninth place for this very cool image.

Butterfly wing

A butterfly wing at 20-times magnification.  (Image: Sébastien Malo) A butterfly wing at 20-times magnification. (Image: Sébastien Malo)

Sébastien Malo of France won the 10th-place prize for this close-up view of a butterfly wing (Morpho didius), showing veins and scales.

Blood vessels in the eye of a mouse

Blood vessels in the eye of a mouse.  (Image: Jason Kirk Carlos P. Flores Suarez) Blood vessels in the eye of a mouse. (Image: Jason Kirk Carlos P. Flores Suarez)

This very trippy image shows the vasculature of a mouse retina. Shown at 20-times magnification, it was taken by Jason Kirk and Carlos P. Flores Suarez from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

Breast organoid

Breast organoid at 40-times resolution.  (Image: Jakub Sumbal) Breast organoid at 40-times resolution. (Image: Jakub Sumbal)

A breast organoid (a cultured and miniaturized version of the real thing) showing contractile myoepithelial cells (blue) crawling on secretory breast cells (red). Jakub Sumbal from Masaryk University in the Czech Republic was awarded 12th place for this image.

Pollen on fabric

Clumps of pollen gathered onto common fabric, shown at 10-time magnification.  (Image: Felice Placenti) Clumps of pollen gathered onto common fabric, shown at 10-time magnification. (Image: Felice Placenti)

Felice Placenti of Italy took this image of cotton fabric with pollen grains attached.

Snowflake

A snowflake at 4-times magnification. (Image: Joern N. Hopke) A snowflake at 4-times magnification. (Image: Joern N. Hopke)

A gorgeous and almost mechanical-looking snowflake, as imaged by Joern N. Hopke from Waban, Massachusetts.

Microscopic algae

A diatom at 40-times magnification.  (Image: Bernard Allard) A diatom at 40-times magnification. (Image: Bernard Allard)

The Arachnoidiscus diatom is a single-celled organism that lives on tropical seawoods. Diatoms are famous for their symmetrical shapes, this one being an excellent example.

Cyanobacterial strands

Strands of Nostoc cyanobacteria. (Image: Martin Kaae Kristiansen) Strands of Nostoc cyanobacteria. (Image: Martin Kaae Kristiansen)

Martin Kaae Kristiansen of Denmark captured this image, showing filamentous strands of the Nostoc cyanobacteria.

Slime mould

Slide mould at 10-times magnification.  (Image: Alison Pollack) Slide mould at 10-times magnification. (Image: Alison Pollack)

Alison Pollack of San Anselmo, California, captured this remarkable image of Arcyria pomiformis, a species of slime mould.