Helix-Shaped Plankton Portrait Wins 'Small World' Contest

Nikon’s Small World competition honors images of objects too small for the unaided eye to see. Wim van Egmond, a photographer from The Netherlands, won first place in the 2013 contest for his image of Chaetoceros debilis, a colonial diatom. (Image credit: Wim van Egmond)

An up-close portrait of a corkscrew-shaped plankton, a peek into a painted turtle's eye and a magnified view of a marine worm are among this year's winners of a photography contest that honors all things microscopic.

The prizing-winning images of Nikon's Small World competition were announced Wednesday (Oct. 30). Top honors went to a stunning photo of a colonial plankton organism, Chaetoceros debilis, taken by Wim van Egmond, a freelance photographer from the Netherlands, associated with the Micropolitan Museum in Rotterdam.

"I approach micrographs as if they are portraits," Egmond said in a statement of his winning image. "The same way you look at a person and try to capture their personality, I observe an organism and try to capture it as honestly and realistically as possible." [See the Winning Microscopic Images]

But even when stacking together more than 90 images at 250-times magnification — as Egmond did for his winning submission — form, rhythm and composition still matter.

"The positioning of the helix, the directions of the bristles, the subdued colors and contrast all bring together a balance that is both dynamic and tranquil," Egmond said.

You've never seen a ladybug like this. Nikon’s 2013 Small World microphotography competition's 7th place prize went to Jan Michels, who took this image of an adhesive pad on a foreleg of ladybird beetle, or Coccinella septempunctata. (Image credit: Jan Michels)

This year's 2nd prize went to a photo of a painted turtle's retina, the light-sensitive membrane inside the eye. At 400-times magnification, the image would likely be unrecognizable to most viewers; it looks likes a polka-dotted shower curtain. The photo was submitted by Joseph Corbo, a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine, who studies how retinal photoreceptors interact with the nervous system.

A picture of a marine worm, magnified 20 times, won 3rd prize. Alvaro Migotto, a researcher at the University of São Paulo, snapped the image.

Other scientific subjects among the 100 finalists in Nikon's contest included an excited neuron, a chameleon embryo, a butterfly's coiled tongue, an adhesive pad on a ladybug's leg, the splash of colorful crystals that form in battery leakage and pearly dewdrops clinging to a spider web.

Nikon's contest was established in 1975. The winning photos from last year's competition include a colorful image of the blood-brain barrier in a live zebrafish embryo and a photograph of newborn lynx spiderlings. In 2011, an up-close portrait of a green lacewing larva won top honors, followed by an amazing image of blade of grass magnified 200 times.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.