Tiny Things Win Big in Nikon Photo Contest

The votes are in, and the winner of Nikon’s annual Small World Photomicrography Competition is…Arabidopsis thaliana! You know, the thale cress anther? OK, it’s the male sex organ of a small flowering plant, and enterprising Estonian Heiti Paves, a scientist at the Tallinn University of Technology who is probably of no relation to celebrity hairstylist Ken, managed to photograph a bunch of them under 20 times magnification (resulting in the photomicrograph pictured above). “As part of my work as a research scientist, I have been taking photographs through the microscope for almost 30 years to observe the processes in living cells,” said Paves, whose winning image reminds us of a painfully inflamed devil strawberry. “I have spent a lot of time to capture nice pictures worthy of submission to the Nikon Small World Competition.” Way to put that pricey confocal microscope to good use!

Always on the hunt for art historical allusions (however unintentional they may be), we particularly enjoyed the above top finishers. James Hayden of Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute captured fourth place for his ultra-closeup of a swirly anglerfish ovary (above, at left)—or is it a pseudocolored overhead shot of Robert Smithson‘s “Spiral Jetty”? Meanwhile, New Zealander Lloyd Donaldson won eighth place for his Brice Marden-esque skeins of color (at right), which are in fact cotton fibers daubed with berberine sulphate and magnified a couple hundred times. Go and project your own frame of reference on all of the winners and honorable mentions here.