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These 10 extreme microphotographs offer an artistic look at a small world

Macro photography can turn the most ordinary subjects into colorful works of art. Earlier this week, Nikon unveiled the winners of the annual Small World Microphotography Competition, offering a new look at some of the tiniest subjects.

Nikon Instruments awarded first place honors to Oscar Ruiz, Ph.D for his shot of the face of a four-day-old zebrafish embryo. Ruiz is currently studying the zebrafish for insight into genetic mutations that cause abnormalities, including cleft lip and palate. His time lapse of the developing face is offering insight into how the facial features develop at the earliest stages, which in turn can provide insight into similar conditions in humans. By tracking movement between the shots in the time lapse, Ruiz and his team measure how the facial development takes place.

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“Until now, these facial abnormalities had not been extensively studied in a live context where you can see what’s happening during development in real time,” Ruiz said. “Using a live-imaging approach means we can better understand and pinpoint exactly how and why these developmental abnormalities occur. The first step is knowing how it happens, then we can figure out how to fix it.”

Along with recognizing images with scientific significance, the contest recognized microscopic shots for their artistic qualities as well. The second place shot, by Wisconsin resident Douglas Moore, shows the colorful design of a Teepee Canyon Agate viewed at 90x magnification. An image showing the intricate pattern of human skin cell neurons took the third place prize, shot by Rebecca Nutbrown of Oxford, U.K.

The competition recognized 76 winners out of over 2,000 entries, with the voting for the Popular Vote award continuing through Oct. 25.

“Whether an image provides a rare glimpse into cutting-edge medical research as we saw from our first-place winner, or reveals a fun ‘too-close-for-comfort’ look into the eyes of a spider like one of our Images of Distinction, each evokes a powerful reaction from our judges,” explained Eric Flem, Nikon Instruments’ Communications Manager. “Every year we’re looking for that image that makes people lean forward in their seats, sparks their curiosity, and leads them to ask new questions. Nearly 100 years of microscopy has paved the way for the evolving technology and innovative techniques that continue to raise the bar of this competition.”