Nikon's Small World Photography winners see art in remarkable, tiny worlds

Here are the top 20 photos from a contest that turns its eye to magnificent miniature worlds.

Monisha Ravisetti
Monisha Ravisetti was a science writer at CNET. She covered climate change, space rockets, mathematical puzzles, dinosaur bones, black holes, supernovas, and sometimes, the drama of philosophical thought experiments. Previously, she was a science reporter with a startup publication called The Academic Times, and before that, was an immunology researcher at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She graduated from New York University in 2018 with a B.A. in philosophy, physics and chemistry. When she's not at her desk, she's trying (and failing) to raise her online chess rating. Her favorite movies are Dunkirk and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Monisha Ravisetti
oak leaf
1 of 20 Jason Kirk, Baylor College of Medicine/Nikon Small World

Fancy oak leaf

Bet you didn't know an oak tree hanging out in your backyard could be this fancy. Jason Kirk, who won first place in Nikon's Small World Photomicrography competition, used a custom-made microscope to image a southern oak's stomata and vessels in deep violet and cyan. Scroll through the gallery for more remarkable images 

networking neurons
2 of 20 Esmeralda Paric and Holly Stefan, Macquarie University/Nikon Small World

Game of Thrones should've looked like this

Anyone else wish that Game of Thrones' lighting department made the Battle of Winterfell look like these neurons? 

The stunning second-place photo by Esmeralda Paric and Holly Stefan is a microfluidic device that contains 300,000 networking neurons, or brain cells. Bridged by delicate lines, axons that help neurons transmit electrical signals, each side's vibrant tones starkly contrast over a black inky liquid. 


parasitic insect
3 of 20 Frank Reiser, Nassau Community College/Nikon Small World

Pirate parasite

Look. At. That. Claw. Frank Reiser only magnified this parasitic insect, a louse, five times to get its magical-looking weapon this big, and that fact is mildly worrisome.

mouse neuron
4 of 20 Paula Diaz, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile/Nikon Small World

Disco neuron

Yes, there are creatures that look like this under the sea, but this is Paula Diaz's depiction of a mouse's sensory neuron. She used fluorescence to make this cell ready for a glow stick party. The image took fourth place. 

common housefly, magnified
5 of 20 Oliver Dum, Medienbunker Produktion/Nikon Small World

Just your average housefly

Welcome to your new nightmare. Here we have a housefly that Stranger Things' creepy monster was definitely based on. Photographer Oliver Dum captured the magnified proboscis -- the long nose-like thing flies sort of drink liquid with -- of a type of fly that likely lives somewhere in your house.

mouse vessels
6 of 20 Andrea Tedeschi, The Ohio State University/Nikon Small World

Tangled forest of vessels

Spiderwebs or winter wonderland? Andrea Tedeschi offers a new perspective of an adult mouse brain's 3D vasculature in his sixth-place image. These snowy-looking branches could pass as a stop on the path to the North Pole or the aftermath of Spider-Man experimenting with his powers.

7 of 20 Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley, The Ohio State University/Nikon Small World

Beautiful yet deadly tick

Cobalt blue bacteria? Star supernova? Nope. Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley present the head of a tick, a pesky little insect that equally terrorizes puppies and humans.

mouse intestine
8 of 20 Amy Engevik, Medical University of South Carolina/Nikon Small World

Magic eye intestine

Ever have one of those books where you can focus your eyes to reveal a 3D picture? Unfortunately, you won't find a solution in this photo. Amy Engevik won for her eighth-place image of a mouse intestine. I'm starting to think mice are really the star of the show here.

9 of 20 Jan van IJken/Nikon Small World

Kinda cute flea

The feathery, dusty rose water flea captured by ninth-place winner Jan van IJken is carrying embryos and peritrichs, a type of protozoan. Its spiky hands make it look like it's gently swimming forward, and let's be honest, this would make a killer graphic for an indie album cover.

butterfly wing
10 of 20 Sébastien Malo/Nikon Small World

Tinkerbell's butterfly neighborhood

OK, wow. Sébastien Malo's remarkable winning photo of a butterfly wing makes me believe fairies exist. The darker vein surrounded by translucent, yellow, feathery scales marvelously resemble a Pixar animation.

mouse retina
11 of 20 Jason Kirk and Carlos P. Flores Suarez, Baylor College of Medicine/Nikon Small World

Mouse retina or inside of a black hole?

I'm pretty sure if I didn't tell you this was a high-definition magnification of a mouse's retina, you'd believe it's a Radiohead album. 

The longer you stare at this 11th place photo by Jason Kirk and Carlos P. Flores Suarez, the more movement you begin to feel. The curvature of the reddish edges are even reminiscent of a black hole's event horizon. 

breast cell
12 of 20 Jakub Sumbal, Masaryk University/Nikon Small World

Bubble buddy

Remember Spongebob's friend bubble buddy? This fun and blobby thing is actually a breast organoid. The blue parts are myoepithelial cells "crawling" on the crimson breast cells. The striking black background in Jakub Sumbla's photograph really emphasizes the organoid's shape, highlighting the few powdery specks of cells falling away from the cluster. Also, check out that swirly cyan hole toward the bottom. 

cotton fabric
13 of 20 Felice Placenti, FP Nature and Landscape Photography/Nikon Small World

Your T-shirt looks like this

Felice Placenti reintroduces cotton with this 10x magnified photo of the fabric. The dreamlike gradient that flows from soft orange to pearly white seems to emphasize the light source Placenti used. Those yellow spheres, believe it or not, are pollen. 

14 of 20 Joern N. Hopke/Nikon Small World

What Christmas ornaments strive to be

Joern N. Hopke captures crystal clear symmetry, courtesy of mother nature, in this winning photo. It's hard to believe every single snowflake that falls from the sky is as beautiful as this one. 

15 of 20 Bernard Allard, Club Francais de Microscopie/Nikon Small World

Da Vinci would have wanted this algae

Bernard Allard's photograph of a diatom, single-celled algae belongs alongside the detailed sketches in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its fractal-esque pattern resembles some of Da Vinci's works, and I can't help but compare the central lines with chromosomes lined up during mitosis. 

sea anenome neurons
16 of 20 Ruohan Zhong, Stowers Institute for Medical Research/Nikon Small World

Neuronal lightning bolts

Some astronauts who lived on the International Space Station have related lightning during a thunderstorm to neurons in the brain. They say each bolt looks connected as it provokes more strikes across the globe. Ruohan Zhong's photograph of the neurons surrounding the mouth and tentacles of a sea anemone illustrates that thought, perfectly.

17 of 20 Martin Kaae Kristiansen, My Microscopic World/Nikon Small World

COVID's friendly cousin

Coronavirus might be an evil twin. This image by Martin Kaae Kristiansen looks a lot like a Jackson Pollock, with its navy scribbles of cyanobacteria on a greenish pink gelatinous matrix.

simple table salt
18 of 20 Saulius Gugis/Nikon Small World

Literally, just salt

Even salt can be breathtaking. Saulius Gugis magnified our tasty, tiny rocks by 10 times to reveal this chalky, vivid and maze-like picture of a salt crystal. As orange and blue are complementary colors, the eye-catching contrast in this image is spectacular.

calcite crystals
19 of 20 Billie Hughes, Lotus Gemology/Nikon Small World

Matrix vibes

Calcite crystals might be giving diamonds a run for their money. Billie Hughes' lavender-toned photo of the crystal suspended in a gemstone could inspire next year's Cartier showcase. The glittering light toward the left side highlights the crystal's striations so wonderfully.

slime mold looking pretty
20 of 20 Alison Pollack/Nikon Small World

Slime mold trees

Trees of this shape speckled Willy Wonka's world. But unlike his candy cane branches, this one is definitely not edible -- Alison Pollack artistically depicts slime mold in this image that took 20th place. Who knew slime has an iridescent layer?

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