Tiny worlds come alive in the 2021 Nikon Small World in Motion awards
A groundbreaking video of single-celled organisms moving around the gut of a termite has won this year’s Nikon Small World in Motion Competition. In its 11th year, this prominent video microscopy contest continues to deliver astounding glimpses of tiny worlds.
For nearly 50 years the Nikon Small World competition has been celebrating microscopic photography, but a little over 10 years ago it established a moving image sidebar contest called Small World in Motion. Nikon’s Eric Flem says the contest is a testament to the rapid evolution of new microscopic technologies.
“We’re living in an amazing time when we have the ability to capture and share high-quality scientific imagery,” says Flem. “This year’s winning entry highlights the power that microscopy has to connect like-minded individuals, educate others using engaging visuals, and spread scientific knowledge to the general public.”
Taking the top prize this year is an unprecedented look at the symbiotic relationship between termites and protists, the tiny microorganisms living in their gut. These microorganisms help termites digest wood but are notoriously sensitive to light and oxygen, making capturing moving images without immediately killing both host and protist very difficult.
“I tried a lot of methods, even preparing my own saline solution,” explains Fabian Weston, the winning photographer. “They're very sensitive to oxygen, so I had to remove as much gas from the solution as possible. It was very tricky, and I had to work fast. The video you’re seeing is the result of months of trial and error, a lot of research and perseverance.”
Second place went to Stephanie Hachey and Christopher Hughes, a pair of molecular biologists from the University of California, Irvine. The pair of scientists managed to create an incredible time-lapse video showing a human micro-tumor forming and metastasizing. The video shows 10 days of growth.
In third place is Ukrainian microscopic photographer Andrei Savitsky with a mind-bending video of a water flea giving birth to cubs.
Other highlights from this year’s honorable mentions include a psychedelic five-day time-lapse of bacteria growing in a dish, a surreal look at 10 days of moss growth, and an incredible video showing networks of neurons forming in a rat hippocampus.
More highlights from the competition can be found at Nikon Small World.