These award-winning microscope photos reveal a bizarre universe just out of reach

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Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

A strange and unseen world exists at our fingertips, and only microscopes have the power to bring this hidden dimension into view.

To honor the beauty and scientific importance of microscopic photographs- also called micrographs – the Nikon Small World image contest hands out awards and prizes to researchers and hobbyists who capture the most impressive images.

A handful of independent judges picks the contest’s 20 best micrographs, and this year I joined the 43rd judging panel.

We reviewed more than 2,000 pictures from all over the world, and selected the best pictures based on technique, subject matter, and inherent beauty. (We also watched hundreds of stunning videos for the 2017 Nikon Small World in Motion competition.)

The image shown above is a tapeworm’s head with all of its spiky mouthparts in stunning detail.

To see all of the photos the judges picked as winners, keep scrolling.


This image won first place. It shows keratin structures in “immortalized” human skin cells, which are increasingly important tools for medical researchers.

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Dr. Bram van den Broek, Andriy Volkov, Dr. Kees Jalink, Dr. Nicole Schwarz, and Dr. Reinhard Windoffer/Nikon Small World

This image came in second. It shows the seed-filled head of a groundsel flower.

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Dr. Havi Sarfaty/Nikon Small World

This Pac-Man-like photo is the third-place winner. It shows a colony of volvox algae bursting open.

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Jean-Marc Babalian/Nikon Small World

Here’s the full shot of that tapeworm head.

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Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

Fungus grows on a tomato in this image.

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Dean Lerman/Nikon Small World

These are spores of lily pollen.

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Dr. David A. Johnston/Nikon Small World

This part of an embryonic chick brain is colored with the “brainbow” genetic technique.

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Dr. Ryo Egawa/Nikon Small World

Sensory hair cells (red) and neurons (green) reveal the structure of a rat cochlea (part of the inner ear).

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Dr. Michael Perny/Nikon Small World

This cartilage-like tissue was composed and colored to look like a Christmas tree.

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Catarina Moura, Dr. Sumeet Mahajan, Dr. Richard Oreffo, and Dr. Rahul Tare/Nikon Small World

Two weevils work at passing on their genetic inheritance.

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Dr. Csaba Pintér/Nikon Small World

A close-up of a credit card’s holographic logo.

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Steven Simon/Nikon Small World

When you look at a daddy long-legs, these are the eyes looking back at you.

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Charles Krebs/Nikon Small World

An orchid cuckoo bee shines like metal.

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Levon Biss/Nikon Small World

Two Maestra butterfly eggs are nestled together on a leaf.

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David Millard/Nikon Small World

A bat fetus with see-through skin and bones.

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Dr. Rick Adams /Nikon Small World

A great tit bird’s down feathers shine like a rainbow under a microscope.

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Marek Miś/Nikon Small World

This dyed human hair is tied into a knot.

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Harald K. Andersen/Nikon Small World

Anchor-like structures line the skin of sea cucumbers.

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Christian Gautier/Nikon Small World

An impressive profile of a mouse embryo wall.

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Dr. Dylan Burnette/Nikon Small World

A colony of fungus in soil looks like a setting sun.

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Tracy Scott/Nikon Small World