From rodent optic nerves to alien-like coral, these are the Nikon Small World Photomicrography winners

Nikon Small World Competition
Rodent optic nerve head showing astrocytes (yellow), contractile proteins (red) and retinal vasculature (green) - 20X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Image credit: Qambari Hassanain)

Under the lens of a microscope, the world looks very different; abstract patterns, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create beautiful works of art the naked eye cannot see. From the ignition of a matchstick to caffeine crystals and sunflower pollen on a needle, the world of the very small makes the mundane extraordinary. Now in its 49th year, the Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition showcases the beautiful complexities of life. 

This year first place was awarded to  Hassanain Qambari and Jayden Dickson of the Lions Eye Institute, for their captivating image of a rodent optic nerve head, displaying astrocytes in yellow, contractile proteins in red, and retinal vasculature in green. IT contributes significantly to the study and potential reversal of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that afflicts one in five individuals with diabetes worldwide.

• Have a go at taking your own photos of very small things with the best microscopes

Hassanain Qambari, the mastermind behind this winning image, has dedicated his research and efforts since 2021 to the early detection and potential reversal of this devastating disease.

"Current diagnostic criteria and treatment regimens for diabetic retinopathy are limited to the late-stage appearance of the disease, with irreversible damage to retinal microvasculature and function," explained Qambari. "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. I entered the competition as a way to showcase the complexity of retinal microcirculation."

Nikon Small World competition

Matchstick igniting by the friction surface of the box - 2.5X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Image credit: Ole Bielfeldt)

A bubbling, charred matchstick igniting on the box taken by Ole Bielfeldt came in second place while third place was awarded to Malgorzara Lisowska for their image of pink breast cancer cells formed in a heart shape. 

Dr Diego Garcia was also placed in the top 20 for his photo of crystalized sugar syrup which looks like individual pages of paper, a cuckoo wasp standing on a flower by Sherif Abdallah Ahmed and the stomata of a peace lily shot by Marek Miś also featured among the top 20. Eight images including a photo of neonatal intestinal mouse tissue and the underside of a cellar spider received honorable mention while a further 58 images were awarded a distinction. This years judging panel consisted of scientists, editors and photographers specializing in cellular biology. 

Nikon Small World Competition

Breast cancer cells - 40X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Image credit: Malgorzata)

Nikon Small World Competition

Caffeine crystals - 25X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Image credit: Stefan Eberhard)

Nikon Small World Competition

Fluorescent image of an Acropora sp. showing individual polyps with symbiotic zooxanthellae - 5X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Image credit: Pichaya Lertvillai)

Nikon Small World Competition

Stomata in peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) leaf epidermis - 40X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Image credit: Marek Mis)

Eric Flem, Senior Manager, CRM and Communications at Nikon Instruments, shares Qambari's passion for showcasing exemplary scientific work and artistic techniques. He expressed, "The past 49 years of this competition have borne witness to many innovative and pioneering advancements in scientific imaging technology. I am consistently awed by how these advancements make it possible to create art out of science for the public to enjoy."

The Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition will continue to illuminate the beauty, art, and significance of the microscopic world while recognizing the groundbreaking work of individuals in the field of scientific imaging. To find out how you can take part in the 50th competition and to see the full gallery, go to the Nikon Small World website

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.