Unseen Universe Comes to Light

Nikon's Small World celebrates 30 Years of photography through the microscope
Suzanne Tracy

Things were not what they seemed.... At a twilight reception in New York's Times Square, astonishing displays of color and form were revealing remarkable subject matter. Twenty extraordinary images from the world of science, as seen through a microscope's eye, were making their debut in Nikon's 2004 Small World Photomicrography exhibit.

On October 6, 2004, Nikon announced the winners of its 30th Annual International Small World Competition, which was founded in 1974 to recognize excellence in photography through the microscope and is dedicated to furthering creativity and excellence in photomicrography. This year's winning entries were selected from images of specimens including neurons, quantum dot crystals, plant tissues and fibers, cells in culture, re-crystallized chemicals, animal tissue sections, a tapeworm, and several microscopic invertebrates. The gallery they create fuses the worlds of science and art and unmistakably demonstrates that beauty is found in the most unexpected places.

More than 1,200 images from around the world were submitted to the competition, which were evaluated by an independent judging panel on their originality, informational content, technical proficiency and visual impact. The top three winning images include quantum dot nanocrystals deposited on a silicon substrate using polarized reflected light, a spiderwort flower anther and immature pollen seen through a laser confocal microscope, and an image of differentiating neuronal cells (actin, microtubules and DNA) captured using fluorescence.

The 2004 first-prize winner, Seth Coe-Sullivan, thought he was just having a bad week at work when he couldn't get his microscope image of quantum dot nanocrystals to come out right. Instead of nice, flat films, he captured the patterns of the nanocrystals. But when the Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering showed the images to fellow researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they saw his 'failure' as something else -- art.

"The natural world is what created the art, much more than I did," says Coe-Sullivan, who is studying uses of light emission from the quantum dots in devices such as light bulbs and cell phones. "I was just there to observe it."

Charles Kazilek, this year's fourth-place winner, manages the Life Science Visualization Group and is Technical Director of the William M. Keck Bioimaging Laboratory at Arizona State University -- two areas closely linked by use of computer systems in tandem with various light microscopy instruments. In addition, he is an artist and co-developer of The Paper Project educational outreach program.

"My work fuses art and science," says Kazilek, "I often use techniques traditionally reserved for scientific investigation to explore new ways of seeing and creating images in both 2-D and virtual 3-D."

The Paper Project is dedicated to exploring one of the earliest technologies and art forms, papermaking. Handmade and mold-made paper images are chronicled using a scanning-laser confocal microscope that scans successively deeper layers of a specimen and then uses a computer to assemble the various images into a single composition, eliminating blurring and scatter. The resulting compositions not only have proved helpful in understanding how the fibers are interlaced within a specific paper, but also are works of art.

The five judges for the this year's contest were Michael Peres, Chair of the Department of Biomedical Photographic Communications at Rochester Institute of Technology; Bonnie Stutski, a photo editor for Smithsonian Magazine; Ellis Rubenstein, President of the New York Academy of Sciences; Ted Salmon, a cell biologist and biophysicist in the Department of Cell Biology at the University of North Carolina; and Michael W. Davidson, Director of the Optical and Magneto-Optical Imaging Center at Florida State University.

The annual Nikon Small World competition is open to anyone over the age of 18 with an interest in photomicrography. Past winners have included scientists, hobbyists, clergymen, gold prospectors, industrial photographers and engineers. Entries have been received from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Latin America, Asia and Africa. The contest accepts submissions until the end of June each year. Winners are announced and honored at a celebration in New York City each Fall.

1st Prize
Mr. Seth Coe-Sullivan
MIT Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences
Cambridge, MA
Quantum dot nanocrystals deposited on a silicon substrate (200x)
Polarized reflected light

2nd Prize
Dr. Shirley Owens
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort flower) anther and immature pollen
Confocal (laser)

3rd Prize
Dr. Torsten Wittmann
The Scripps Research Institute
La Jolla, California
Differentiating neuronal cells (actin, microtubules and DNA) (1000x)

4th Prize
Mr. Chales Kazilek
The Paper Project / W.M. Keck Bioimaging Laboratory
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ
Australian plant fibers (Juncus sp.) from mold-made paper (100x)
Confocal (3-laser)

5th Prize
Mr. Francois Paquet-Durand
Institute of Physiology and Cell Biology
Hannover School of Veterinary Medicine
Hannover, Germany
Differentiated human NT-2 neuronal cells, six weeks old (40x)
Confocal (laser)

6th Prize
Mr. Charles Krebs
Charles Krebs Photography
Issaquah, WA
Thorax, head and eye section of Chrysochroa fulminans (a metallic beetle)
Reflected light

7th Prize
Mrs. Tora Bardal
Department of Biology
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Trondheim, Norway
Turbot larvae, 25 days old (6x)

8th Prize
Mr. Alan Opsahl
Groton, CT
Rat epididymis (part of the male reproductive system) (100x)

9th Prize
Mr. Edy Kieser
Ennenda, Switzerland
Crystallized acetaminophen and ascorbic acid (40x)
Polarized light

10th Prize
Mr. Wim van Egmond
Micropolitan Museum
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Brittle Star Larva, living specimen (100x)
Differential interference contrast

11th Prize
Mr. Edy Kieser
Ennenda, Switzerland
Crystallized glycine, tartaric acid and resorcinol (40x)
Polarized light

12th Prize
Mr. Christian Gautier
BIOS/PHONE Photo Agency
Paris, France
Scolex (head) of Cysticercus psiformis (tapeworm) (100x)
Polarized light

13th Prize
Dr. Tsutomu Seimiya
Department of Chemistry
Tokyo Metropolitan University
Tokyo, Japan
Interference image of a microscopic flow-pattern in draining soap film (15x)
Simple microscope

14th Prize
Mr. Robert Markus
Biological Research Center / Institute of Genetics
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Szeged, Hungary
Taraxacum sp. (dandelion) stigma with pollen (100x)

15th Prize
Mr. Wim van Egmond
Micropolitan Museum
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Micrasterias rotata (a desmid) undergoing cell division (200x)

16th Prize
Mr. Ruben Sandoval
Indiana Center for Biological Microscopy
Indiana University School of Medicine
Indianapolis, IN
Superficial kidney glomerulus of a living Munic Wistar rat (60x)
Confocal (2-Photon)

17th Prize
Dr. Amy Brock
Children's Hospital
Boston, MA
Human microvascular endothelial cell (60x)

18th Prize
Dr. Jennifer Waters Shuler and Adrian Salic
Department of Cell Biology
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA
Mitotic human cells (microtubules, kinetochores, and DNA) (1000x)
Confocal (spinning disk)

19th Prize
Mr. Pedro Barrios
National Research Council of Canada (NRC)
Ottawa, Canada
Planarization of patterned silicon-nitride-coated silicon-substrate (200x)
Reflected light / differential interference contrast

20th Prize
Mr. Albert Tousson
Department of Cell Biology
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, AL
Cultured baby hamster kidney cells (1500x)

Small World Exhibition Tour ScheduleThis year's complete gallery of winning scientific images will be visiting museums across the country to educate people about the importance of photomicrography in scientific research, as well as to help to integrate science into mainstream art. Winners from the past 27 competitions, as well as honorable mentions for 2002-2004, also can be viewed online at

Through December 31, 2004 -- Rochester Institute of Technology, One Lomb Memorial Dr., Rochester, NY 1462
Through January 30, 2005 -- New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State St., Trenton, NJ 08625
December 27, 2004 to February 27, 2005 -- Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., Baltimore, MD 21230
December 29, 2004 to January 31, 2005 -- Texas A&M University, John Conner Museum, 905 W. Santa Gertruois, Kingsville, TX 78363
January 3 to January 30, 2005 -- Arizona Science Center, 600 East Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004
January 10 to March 13, 2005 -- University of Massachusetts, 125 A Herter Hall, Amherst, MA 01003
February 14 to March 6, 2005 -- The Science Factory, 2300 Leo Harris Parkway, Eugene, OR 97401
February 14 to March 27, 2005 -- Museum of Science and Technology, 500 South Franklin, Syracuse, NY 13202
March 14 to May 22, 2005 -- Pacific Science Center, 200 Second Avenue, N. Seattle, WA 98109
March 21 to April 10, 2005 -- Oregon Museum of Science, 1945 S.E. Water Avenue, Portland, OR 97214
April 4 to July 10, 2005 -- New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street, Corona, NY 11368
April 11 to May 22, 2005 -- Science Center of Connecticut, 950 Trout Brook Drive, West Hartford, CT 06119
April 25 to July 10, 2005 -- Fernbank Science Center, 156 Heaton Park Drive Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30307
June 6 to July 17, 2005 -- American Museum of Science and Energy, 300 South Tulane Avenue, Oak Ridge, TN 37830
June 6 to September 5, 2005 -- New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain Rd. N.W., Albuquerque, NM 87104
July 25 to September 4, 2005 -- Marine Biology Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543
September 5 to October 23, 2005 -- The Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 South Market Street, San Jose, CA 95113
July 25 to December 19, 2005 -- Adventure Science Center, 800 Fort Negley Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37203
September 19 to October 30, 2005 -- Science World, 1455 Quebec Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6A 3Z7
November 7, 2005 to January 16, 2006 -- Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33617
November 14 to December 4, 2005 -- The Science Place, 1318 Second Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210