International Photo Competition Honors World's most Extraordinary Life Science Microscope Images

red algae Scagelia

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This photo of the red algae Scagelia, showing reproductive tetraspores and golden diatoms was awarded Second Place in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition. Dr. Arlene Wechezak of Anacortes, WA, used a darkfield technique to capture the image. Courtesy of Olympus BioScapes
Olympus America is in the tenth year of sponsoring a dynamic international photo competition, know as Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition, that honors the world's most extraordinary microscope images of life science subjects. The competition recognizes outstanding images and movies of human, plant and animal subjects as captured through light microscopes, using any magnification, any illumination technique and any brand of equipment.

"Microscope images forge an extraordinary bond between science and art," said Hidenao Tsuchiya, President, Olympus Corporation of the Americas. "We founded this competition to focus on the fascinating stories coming out of today's life science research laboratories. The thousands of images that people have shared with the competition over the years reflect some of the most exciting work going on in research today — work that can help shed light on the living universe and, ultimately, save lives. We look at BioScapes and these beautiful images as sources of education and inspiration to us and the world."

Images of any life science subject are eligible. Each person entering can submit up to five movies, images or image sequences (such as time lapse series). Entries must include information on the importance or "story" behind the images. Entries are judged based on the science they depict, their aesthetics (beauty or impact of the image), and their technical expertise.

In addition to 10 top award-winning 2012 recipients, Honorable Mentions went to 62 images and movies. Altogether, there were nine videos among the entries receiving recognition. The 2012 winning images and movies reflect the latest advances in neuroscience and cell biology as documented by researchers, along with amazing glimpses of life on a microscopic scale captured by hobbyists, students and other photographers. For example, Second Prize went to a beautiful image of branching red algae captured by Arlene Wechezak of Anacortes, WA.

In 2012, one photomicrographer set a BioScapes Competition record for most prizes in a single year. Participants are allowed to submit up to five entries. Igor Siwanowicz of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm Research Campus, Ashburn, VA, took Third Prize for his vibrant confocal image of the sporangia on a fern, and also earned Honorable Mentions for his four other entries, for a grand total of five awards.

The honored images and movies come from 15 states of the U.S., along with 19 other nations including Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Panama, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Competition participants hail from a record 70 nations making the 2012 competition the most international to date.

Animal subjects are highlighted in vivid colors and rarely seen detail in several winning images this year. For instance, Christian Sardet and Sharif Mirshak of The Plankton Chronicles Project, Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, and Montreal, Quebec, Canada, respectively, earned Fourth Prize for a glowing image of a crustacean’s claw. James Nicholson of the NOAA/NOS/NCCOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health & Biomolecular Research, Fort Johnson Marine Lab, Charleston, SC, captured a brilliant golden-colored coral’s open mouth for his Sixth Prize honor. Christian Klämbt and Imke Schmidt of the University of Munster, Munster, Germany took Seventh Prize for a photo of a fruit fly’s brain. And Charles Krebs of Issaquah, WA, captured a 10th Prize close-up of gossamer butterfly wings in shades of orange and purple.

Plant images also earned Top 10 status. Rogelio Moreno Gill of Panama City, Panama, captured an extraordinary Fifth Prize photo of a one-celled green alga found in a lake. The Eighth Prize image captured by Edwin Lee of Carrollton, TX, depicts a common weed called henbit in a striking, almost architectural light. A Delphinium flower seed now looks like an intricately crocheted corsage in a Ninth Place image captured by Sahar Khodaverdi of the University of Tabriz in Iran.

“These fascinating and beautiful images tell important stories that shed light on the living universe around us, showing us the intimate structures and dynamic events of life in ways that we cannot ordinarily see,” said Brad Burklow, Executive Director, Business Development for the Scientific Equipment Group of Olympus America. “BioScapes movies and still images remind us of the fascination and beauty of the natural world, and highlight important work going on in laboratories across the globe. The BioScapes Competition, with entries from an ever-increasing number of countries and very diverse life science fields, allows Olympus to bring amazing images and stories to the attention of scientists and non-scientists alike.”

A selection of the 2012 winning and Honorable Mention images and videos will be displayed in a museum tour that will travel the U.S. over the coming year. The 2012 tour of BioScapes images is sponsored by Olympus America in cooperation with Scientific American. Other exhibits of winning BioScapes images also will tour cities across the U.S., Mexico, South America, Canada and the Middle East throughout 2013.

Olympus selects outstanding authorities in microscope imaging as judges for each year’s competition. This year’s BioScapes panel of judges included the eminent Paul Maddox, Ph.D., University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada; John Murray, Ph.D., Indiana University, Bloomington, IN; Alison North, Ph.D., The Rockefeller University, New York; and Peter Saggau, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.

The Olympus BioScapes Competition will celebrate its landmark 10th Anniversary in 2013 and that competition, which closes September 30, 2013, is already open for participants. Entrants can submit up to five still images, image sequences, or movies of life science subjects captured at any magnification using a compound light microscope. The judges make their decisions without participant or brand information.

Winners are notified in late October and are announced publicly in November or December. Selected winning images also become part of a traveling exhibit tour of museums and academic institutions. This year’s First Prize is the winner's choice of Olympus microscope or camera equipment valued at $5,000. Nine additional winners also will receive valuable prizes from Olympus, and many more will receive recognition as honorable mentions.

To enter the competition or view the BioScapes gallery of winners and Honorable Mentions, visit