Zebrafish embryo 'selfie' takes top prize in microscopic photo contest

Story highlights

  • Nikon's Small World Competition awards extraordinary microscopic images
  • The contest is now in its 42nd year

(CNN)The tiny face of a four-day old zebrafish embryo, scales of a butterfly's wing and magnified coffee crystals -- just some of the miniature worlds revealed by the 2016 finalists in Nikon's annual microscopic images competition.

Over 2,000 photos from around the world were entered as part of the 2016 Nikon Small World Competition, which celebrates the art of microscopic images.
    Many of the winning images are both beautiful and practical, through the contribution they made to science or medicine.
    Photos were submitted from 70 different countries for the competition and feature insects, human cells, fish and even human cells.
    Each picture is an example of photomicrography -- microscopic photographs that, in this case, celebrate never-before-seen images of scientific research and the natural world.

    "Each image evokes a powerful reaction"

    A microscopic "selfie" of a zebrafish embryo was announced as the overall winner on Wednesday, taken by United States researcher Dr Oscar Ruiz.
    Dr. Ruiz, who studies genetic mutations that cause abnormalities in the human face at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, is hoping that his research involving zebrafish -- which inspired his winning photograph -- can lead to possible preventive and corrective measures for people with facial deformities such as cleft lip or cleft palate.
    The zebrafish embryo, its mouth ajar and its nascent eyes staring into the camera lens, beat out 20 other finalists who were also revealed on Wednesday.
    Runners-up included Douglas Moore's luminous photo depicting a polished piece of Teepee Canyon Agate stone, which came in second, and Rebecca Nutbrown's third place photo capturing neurons derived from human skin cells.
    Biologist and science writer, Joe Hanson, who was a judge, said picking a winner was like choosing a "major league baseball all-star team."
    "Truly the best of the best. Beyond looking for technical proficiency and innovative techniques, most of all I was looking for images that told a story, that made me feel something or ask a question beyond science," he said.
    Nikon Instruments' Eric Flem said every year they were looking for a winner with something special.
    "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," Flem said.
    "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...each image evokes a powerful reaction from our judges."