Nikon Small World photo contest shows life under the microscope

A vivid, extreme closeup of a rodent optic nerve head took home top honors at this year’s Nikon Small World photo competition, which recognizes excellence in photography under the microscope.

The annual contest, founded in 1974, received nearly 1,900 entries from 72 countries this year, organizers said. Photos are judged on originality, informational content, technical proficiency and visual impact.

MORE: Watch: Dazzling time-lapse of developing neurons wins Nikon's annual video contest

Last year’s contest made headlines for one of its "images of distinction" that showed an extremely creepy closeup of an ant.

The rodent eye nerve that won first place prize in 2023 was taken by Hassanain Qambari, assisted by Jayden Dickson of the Lions Eye Institute.

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1st Place Hassanain Qambari & Jayden Dickson The Lions Eye Institute Department of Physiology & Pharmacology Perth, Western Australia, Australia Rodent optic nerve head showing astrocytes (yellow), contractile proteins (red) and retinal vasculature (green) Confocal, Fluorescence, Image Stacking 20X (Objective Lens Magnification) (Nikon Small World)

"The colorful image provides an important contribution to the study and reversal of diabetic retinopathy, which affects one in five persons with diabetes worldwide," contest organizers said in a news release.  

Second place went to Ole Bielfeldt for his photo of a matchstick igniting by the friction surface of the box. The image was taken within one eight-thousands of a second and utilized imaging stacking.

Malgorzata Lisowska won third place for her image of breast cancer cells.

In addition to the top three winners, Nikon Small World recognized 83 other photos, including honorable mentions and "images of distinction."

In 2011, Nikon Small World launched a sister competition — Nikon Small World in Motion — to showcase technology advances for recording movies or digital time-lapse photography through the microscope. You can see those winners here