Our World Is Mesmerizing On The Micro Level, And These Award-Winning Photos Are Proof

You've never seen a spider, a caterpillar, or even a DVD reader quite like this before.

The winning photos this year in Nikon's annual Small World Photomicrography Competition offer a very up-close look at these three things and many others--and they're absolutely beautiful.

The annual competition, which is celebrating its 40th year, showcases some of the best microphotography from around the world. This year, more than 1,200 entries from at least 79 countries were vying for top honors. The entries were judged by biologist Dr. Paul Maddox, Slate science editor Laura Helmuth, and Popular Science's online director Dave Mosher.

Which photo took first place? Panama resident Rogelio Moreno's image of a rotifer's open mouth. Rotifers are sometimes called microscopic "wheel" animals and are commonly found in freshwater.

Check out the top 20 winning photos below.

1st Place: Mr. Rogelio Moreno Panama, Panama. Rotifer showing the mouth interior and heart shaped corona. Differential Interference Contrast 40X
2nd Place: Mr. Alessandro Da Mommio Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Pisa Pisa, Italy. Rhombohedral cleavage in calcite crystal. Crossed Polars 10X
3rd Place: Noah Fram-Schwartz Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. Jumping Spider Eyes. Reflected Light 20X
4th Place: Ms. Karin Panser Institute of Molecular Pathology I.M.P. Vienna, Austria. Caterpillar proleg with circle of gripping hooks in red. Confocal, Autofluorescence 20X
5th Place: Dr. Muthugapatti K. Kandasamy Biomedical Microscopy Core, University of Georgia Athens, Georgia, USA. Bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cells stained for actin (pink), mitochondria (green) and DNA (yellow). Super Resolution Microscopy 0X
6th Place: Dr. Douglas Brumley Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Active fluid flow around P. damicornis (coral polyp). Fluorescence, Autofluorescence 4X
7th Place: Mr. Dennis Hinks Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Circuitry in DVD reader. Cross-polarized microscopy 100X
8th Place: Dr. Igor Robert Siwanowicz Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Ashburn, Virginia, USA. Appendages of a common brine shrimp. Confocal 100X
9th Place: Ms. Meritxell Vendrell Servei de Microscòpia, Universitat Autònoma Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) ovary fixed and stained to show lectins (red) and nuclei (blue). Confocal laser scanning microscopy 63X
10th Place: Dr. Paul Joseph Rigby CMCA, The University of Western Australia Crawley, Western Australia, Australia. Daisy petal with fungal infection and pollen grains, whole mount, unstained. Confocal autofluorescence 10X
11th Place: Mr. Stefano Barone Cremona, Italy. House cricket's tongue (Acheta domesticus). Rheinberg illumination (Dark field with interference filter) 25X
12th Place: Mr. Douglas Moore University Relations and Communications, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point Stevens Point, Wisconsin, USA. Montana Dryhead agate, unpolished. Axial lighting was provided by Leeds fiberoptic illuminators 50X
13th Place: Mr. Charles Krebs Charles Krebs Photography Issaquah, Washington, USA. Conochilus unicornis (rotifer), actively feeding. This rotifer species forms a free floating spherical colony. Differential Interference Contrast 417X
14th Place: Dr. Ali Erturk Munich, Germany. Mouse brain vasculature. Light-sheet fluorescent microscopy 2X
15th Place: Mr. Charles Krebs Charles Krebs Photography Issaquah, Washington, USA. Chrysochroa buqueti (jewel beetle) carapace, near eye. Diffused, Reflected Illumination 45X
16th Place: Dr. Nils Lindstrom Developmental Biology, The Roslin Institute Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Three transgenic kidneys cultured together, showing colliding branching collecting duct systems. Confocal 20X
17th Place: Mr. Rogelio Moreno Panama, Panama. Pleurotaenium ovatum (micro algae). Polarized Light, Lambda Plate 40X
18th Place: Mr. Jens H. Petersen MycoKey Ebeltoft, Denmark. Anagallis arvensis (scarlet pimpernel). Macroscopy 80X
19th Place: Dr. Sabrina Kaul University of Vienna Vienna, Austria. Larval stage of the acorn worm Balanoglossus misakiensis, dorsal view, showing cell borders, muscles and apical eye spots. Confocal 10X
20th Place: Dr. Dylan T. Burnette Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Nashville, Tennessee, USA. A crawling bone cancer (osteosarcoma) cell showing actin filament bundles in the lamella. Structured Illumination Microscopy 8000X
Nikon Small World - 20th Place

Nikon Small World 2012 Winners

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