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In its 42nd year, Nikon’s Small World photomicrography contest is a peek into a world of strange and hidden beauty that lies beneath the naked eye. Using powerful lenses and microscopes that magnify things tenfold and more, brain cells appear as fantastical sea creatures; neurons form bold, intricate patterns; and pain medication takes on the pattern of vintage wallpaper.

There were thousands of submissions to Small World 2016. Here are STAT’s health and medicine favorites from the contest winners and “Image of Distinction” categories.

Nikon small world
19th place: Human neural rosettes, formed as embryonic stem cells, differentiate into primordial brain cells; Confocal microscopy, 10x magnification. Brivanlou Laboratory/Rockefeller University
Nikon Small World
Image of Distinction — Crystals of diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is a COX-inhibitor; Polarized light, 40x magnification. Adolfo Ruiz De Segovia
Nikon small world
Third place: Cell culture sample of neurons derived from human skin cells (green) and Schwann cells (red); Confocal microscopy, 20x magnification. Rebecca Nutbrown/University of Oxford
Nikon Small World - Images of Distinction
Image of Distinction: A hippocampal slice stained for neurons (blue), astrocytes (green), and proliferating cells (red); Confocal microscopy, 20x magnification. Dr. Jennifer Peters/St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Nikon Small World - Images of Distinction
Image of Distinction: Hippocampal neurons; Confocal microscopy, 10x magnification. Dr. Wutian Wu/The University of Hong Kong
Nikon small world
12th place: Human HeLa cell undergoing cell division (cytokinesis). DNA (yellow), myosin II (blue), and actin filaments (red); Structured illumination, 9x magnification. Dr. Dylan Burnette/Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
  • Not wishing to beat a dead horse, Nat Prunet seems to support the notion that actin filaments radiate from cells during cytokinesis, whereas most people maintain that microtubules are arrayed radially while actin filaments are either in cortical actin (parallel and under the plasma membrane) OR in the contractile ring, leaving the identity of the radiating fibers in the 14th place image unclear.

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