Week 5 Feb 24 - Nikon Small World Exhibition


The Nikon Small World Exhibition is a world renowned competition for photomicrographers dating back to 1977 where the intersection of art and science is shown through imagery under the microscope. The competition will be judged by leading experts in the scientific community based on various measures such as ingenuity, technical achievement and visual effect. Chosen winners will be exhibited in museums throughout the world, while press coverage is pretty extensive since it spans the technology, science and art communities making this a noteworthy competition.

All previous winners can be viewed on the Nikon Microscopy U website. It is fascinating to go back to the winners from the first year of the competition in 1977 and compare those images to the ones we have today. Images from the beginning have just as a contemporary feel as the present, but do not offer the same visual details and affordances. This is an intriguing visual record of the technological growth we have experienced from a visual perspective over the past 35 years. It is my guess that this trend will only continue for the next 30 years.   

Having experienced microscopy in the Lang Lab, I have grown to appreciate this field and just how valuable information garnered at the microscopic level can be. This particular exhibit is relatable to our class as there is an artistic element to the works, which in addition to the science aspect makes this a visceral experience. I have a much greater appreciation for capturing moments under a microscope as this is a highly developed skill that takes great patience and working knowledge of the delicacies of this medium.

In addition to still imagery, the contest has recently added a new element to the competition called “Nikon Small World in Motion” where contestants submit works documented using digital photomicrography of recording movies or digital time-lapse photography through the microscope. The previous year’s winner Anna Franz, submitted a video showing an  “ink injection into yolk sac artery of 72-hour-old chick embryo, to visualize the beating heart and vasculature”. This work reminded me of the zebra embryos presented to us at the Genspace, where we viewed the various embryonic stages of a zebrafish. I think incorporating a video or time lapse element to the contest is critical in truly understanding biological development at the microscopic level.

Below are some images of 1st place contenders from previous years.


1st place 2011, Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology
 in Martinsried, Germany, took this photo, a portrait of a Chrysopa sp. (green lacewing) larva at 20x magnification with a 
confocal lens.


1st place 2009, Dr. Heiti Paves of Tallinn University of Technology, Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) anther (20x) Confocal / Heiti Paves, Tallinn University of Technology.


1st place 2006, Dr. Paul Appleton of University of Dundee, Division of Cell and Developmental Biology, Dundee, UK, Cell nuclei of the mouse colon (740x).