Photomicrography Reveals The World’s Smallest Wonders

The world is full of teeny tiny wonders that are too small for the human eye to see. Through photomicrography—the photography of a small object taken with the aid of a microscope—we are able to see these miniature amazements. Originally created for scientific purposes for the study of microscopic details, photomicrography is commonly used in forensic labs and medical research. But now more and more photographers are using it as a form of artistic expression. From man-made technology to living creatures and biological materials, photomicrography is changing the way we see the world around us.

Creepy Crawler

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Most of us have come across a daddy-longlegs crawling along in our backyard. Daddy-long-legs, officially known as Opiliones, are harmless creatures often mistaken for spiders. (FYI the rumor that they actually have extremely poisonous venom but don’t have strong enough fangs to bite us is just a myth.) Although most of us have never looked at one under a microscope, if we did, this is what we’d see. This photo was taken by Charles Krebs from Issaquah, Washington. It earned 12th place in Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition earlier this year.

Tasty

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At first glance, this image looks like a lovely painting of mystical trees done by a fine artist, but it is actually a microscopic image of the human tongue. The human tongue has a large number of nerves and blood vessels that the naked eye is unable to see. For this particular image, the tongue vessels were injected with lead chromate, a chemical compound with a yellow color (which is also used to create yellow paint) in order to highlight the vessels. Taken by Frank Reiser from Nassau, the photomicrograph received an honorable mention in the Nikon competition.

My Tapeworm Tells Me What To Do

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Tapeworms, Taenia solium, are pretty disgusting when you think about it. They are little flat worms that make a home in human, and some animal, intestines. They are often contracted from undercooked meat, or from someone who didn’t wash their hands well enough after going #2…yuck! They are pretty gross looking without a microscope, but from this photomicrograph we now know that they are even more disgusting and creepy than we imagined. That mouth, those eyes… it is the stuff of nightmares. We can thank Teresa Zgoda from the Rochester Institute of Technology for this disturbing image.

Tripped Out

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This bright and colorful image looks like a digital work of art that could be made into a trippy poster for a college student. It definitely does not look like a photograph of a living creature, but that is precisely what it is. Christian Gautier Biosphoto from France snapped this image of a Synapta, better known as a sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers, which live on the ocean floor, have leathery skin and sort of resemble giant slugs. But who would have guessed that up close they actually look like a collection colorful little anchors?

Watching You

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Every spring and summer, digger wasps emerge to terrorize our yards. Also known as Cicada Killers, these wasps have two large eyes, known as “compound eyes,” as well as several “simple eyes” known as ocelli, which are usually arranged in the shape of a triangle. When Laurie Knight from the UK took a 20x magnified image of those simple eyes, covered in condensation, this was the result. While it is pretty cool looking, don’t try to get a close-up look at these crazy eyes on your own, or you will probably end up stung.

Eye Lights

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This may appear to be a blurred-out image of a Christmas light show, or a vibrant bouquet of flowers, but it is in fact “Individually labeled axons in an embryonic chick ciliary ganglion.” In more comprehensible English, they are nerve fibers in the eye of a baby chicken in the embryo stage. The axons send impulses to the chick’s brain. Each neuron is labeled with a different color by the genetic engineering technique called Brainbow. Pretty crazy, right? Dr. Ryo Egawa, a former researcher at Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine in Nagoya, Japan captured this amazing photo.

Birds Of A Feather

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This amazing image is actually a down feather from the great tit. No, that is not something dirty. The great tit, or Parus major, is a small bird commonly found in Europe, the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia, and parts of North Africa. At normal size, the bird’s feathers appear yellow, white and black, but are much more vivid up close. The image was taken by Marek Miś from Suwalki, Poland, a biologist by education but a photographer by trade, who specializes in photomacrography and photomicrography. This particular photo of his earned him 16th place in this year’s Nikon competition.

Triplets

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Here is another photo from Marek Miś of Suwalki of Poland. This pretty triplet image is actually tiny air bubbles from crystals of melted ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C (though not a tablet or capsule). The technique used to melt the ascorbic acid is one that is used by a number of photomicrographers, as it is known to achieve unique and visually appealing results. The technique creates an almost limitless array of shapes and patterns with no rhyme or reason. This particular entry earned Mr. Miś sixth place in the 2016 Nikon competition.

Our Epidermas

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This image took home first place at the 2017 Nikon Competition. It is an photo of something all of us have, but it doesn’t look quite the same to the naked eye. The technical description of the subject is immortalized human skin cells (HaCaT keratinocytes) expressing fluorescently tagged keratin. In layman terms—our skin. A skin cell to be exact, that has an excessive amount of keratin in it, which is fluorescently labeled in yellow. Dr. Bram van den Broek from The Netherlands Cancer Institute came across it while conducting research with Andriy Volkov, a student in the Cell Biophysics group.

Charge It

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This image also looks like something a college kid would paste onto their wall. The rainbow of colors are deep and rich, and it appears to have a velvet-like texture. Not necessarily adjectives you would normally use to describe a broken credit card, but that is precisely what it is. Specifically, plastic fracturing on a credit card hologram magnified by 10. It was taken by Steven Simon of Simon Photography from Grand Prairie, Texas. He used a technique called “oblique illumination,” where light is projected at the subject from a sideways, slanting angle.

The Real Deal

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This photomicrograph looks too much like a digitally crafted image to be real, but it without a doubt is the real deal. This is what a Senecio vulgaris (a flowering plant) seed’s head looks like magnified 2x with a stereomicroscopy, a microscope with two eyepieces, used for three-dimensional imaging. The plant, often known and as “groundsel” or “old-man-in-the-Spring”, is native to Europe and produces small yellow flowers and dandelion-like seed heads. The photographer is Dr. Havi Sarfaty, an ophthalmologist, from Yahoo-Monoson, Israel. It was the second place winner of Nikon’s competition this year.

Here Comes The Sun

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This sun-like image is a polished slab of Teepee Canyon agate. Agate is a mineral rock in the quartz family, and has been widely used in different types of art for years, because of its vast variety of colors and patterns. For these same reasons it has become quite a popular subject in photomicrography. TeePee Canyon Agate was mined for many years in the western Black Hills of South Dakota, but aside from surfacing collecting, all mining of the mineral basically stopped in 1980’s. The image was taken by Douglas L.Moore, from the Museum of Natural History And the University of Wisconsin.

An Oldie But Goodie

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This may look like wall of vines, but it is actually the iris of an eye magnified 125 times. The blood vessels of the eye were injected with latex to make them more visible. The craziest part of this image is that is was taken in 1977! The photographer is Joseph Goren of Miami, Florida. Photomicrography may not have been as popular back then, but it was still considered an art form. The image earned Goren fifth place in that year’s Nikon competition (yes, it goes that far back).

Microbial Sunrise

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This appears to be a depiction of a windblown field during a lovely pink sunrise. The reality of what it is definitely is not as lovely and inviting; it is in fact a fungus and yeast colony forming in the soil. The specific type of fungus is Aspergillus flavus, which often grows on cereal grains, legumes and tree nuts. The technique used to take the photo is transmitted light, and the image is magnified by 40. It was taken by Tracy Scott from Ithaca, New York, who agreed with the aforementioned description, and titled the image “Microbial Sunrise.”

Futuristic Maze

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This image looks like a still shot of a maze from some kind of futuristic movie. (Remember Tron?) Or is it a bird’s eye view of a wild funhouse? Or… it could very well be a layout for the most amazing game of laser tag. In actuality, it is the surface of a microchip, as a 3D reconstruction, 500 times magnified. The photomicrographer is Alfred Pasieka from Germany. He took a number of similar photomicrographs of microchips, many of which are currently being sold as prints and posters (which very may well be hanging in a dorm room).

Infected

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Knowing the truth of what this image is transformed the beautiful aspects of it into something quite icky. This is a shot of a Ascaris, AKA a parasite that lives in the small intestines. It is also known as “small intestinal roundworms.” And a female, to be precise, magnified at 150. Is that image starting to look icky now? It was taken by Massimo Brizi from Firenza, Italy. Brizi began his journey to photographing the world’s mini wonders by initially photographing insects, and then kept opting for smaller and smaller subjects. Now he mainly focuses on micro-organisms of the water.

Downward Spiral

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While this may resemble a spiraling slide from a Tim Burton movie, it is actually something much more mundane. It is the inside of a newborn rat’s ear: the cochlea. Thecochlea, which has a shape that’s often compared to that of a snail’s shell, is the auditory part of the inner ear and receives sound in the form of vibrations. The green sections are sensory hair cells, and the red section is spiral ganglion neurons. And considering the size of a newborn rat, this must be tiny. The image was taken by Dr. Michael Perny of Bern, Switzerland, who works for the Institute for Infectious Diseases.

All Tied Up

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This resembles a rope knot made by a boater or rock climber. Perhaps it is a clove hitch. Or is it a sheet bend? Whatever the case may be, the rope itself looks quite unbreakable. Would you believe that with one quick yank from either end, that the rope could be snapped? The truth is, that “rope” could be torn apart with barely any force behind it: it’s really dyed human hair, something people with long hair encounter on a daily basis. In fact, we have on average 100,000 strands of it. The image comes from freelance photographer, Harald K. Andersen, from Steinberg, Norway.

Colorful Crystals

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The vibrant rainbow of colors depicted in this image is reminiscent of the Lisa Frank artwork that was popular in the 1990s. Nineties kids will remember all of the binders, Trapper Keepers and pencil cases with her images. Imagine a smiling unicorn rising from the icy blue sea. Look closely and find the sparkling crystals scattered throughout. Those are real crystals, just not the kind one would think. The crystals are from Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, a common, over-the-counter pain medication, magnified 20 times and subjected to polarized light. Who would have thought that a pain med is so beautiful?

A Nice Cold One

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By first glance, judging by previous entries, this image appears to be of something with an excessive amount of eyes. But those are not eyes, they’re air bubbles…in beer. A Budweiser was chilled to 4° C and put into a container and pressurized with Freon. It was then atomized and opened, positioned in such a way that the contents of the opened beer would splatter onto a flawlessly shined-up silicone surface, which was then photographed. A cool bit of information observed through this process was that different beer brands resulted in different patterns. This experiment was conducted by Michael W. Davidson from The Florida State University.