Magnet Lab hosts international photomicrography competition

It’s a small world, after all. A really, really small world. And much of what we know about it is learned through the ever-advancing technology of microscopes.

That microscopic world was celebrated this month when Nikon announced the winners of its "Small World Competition," which recognizes excellence in photography though the microscope. The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, located in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted the international competition, serving as the focal point for 875 entries from 58 countries.

A photo gallery of all the 2005 winners can be viewed at

Mike Davidson, director of the Optical and Magneto-Optical Imaging Center at the magnet lab, has served as the contest’s organizer and a consultant to the judges since 2001, during which time participation in the contest has grown more than tenfold.

The Small World Competition, founded in 1975, is the leading forum for showcasing the beauty and complexity of objects seen through the light microscope. This year’s competition was judged by a distinguished panel comprising the country’s leading microscopists and photo editors, including Jennifer Waters, director of the Nikon Imaging Center at Harvard Medical School; Todd James, illustrations editor for National Geographic magazine; Emily Harrison, photography editor of Scientific American magazine; and Alexey Khodjakov, research scientist at the Wadsworth Center for the New York
Department of Health.

"Contestants are taking ordinary objects and looking at them in extraordinary ways," said Davidson, a two-time Grand Prize winner of the Polaroid International Microscopy contest and multiple winner of the Nikon Small World competition. "Once you’ve seen some of these images, it’s hard to look at everyday objects the same way again."

Take, for example, the common house fly. Bristling with sharp, sensitive antennae, bulbous eyes with 4,000 lenses, and a mouth that sucks up food through a pump in its head, a photomicrograph of the housefly placed first in the 2005 competition. The image, taken by Charles Krebs of Issaquah, Wash., using reflected light microscopy, was one of hundreds of entries.

While the photomicrograph of a common house fly might seem whimsical, photomicrographs are technical documents that can be of great significance to science and industry. Photomicrographers make critically important scientific contributions to life sciences, bio-research and materials science. Their work also often results in objects of beauty that non-scientists can appreciate. Davidson sees that as another avenue for interesting young people in careers in science, which is one of the magnet lab’s core missions.

For information on how to enter the 2006 Small World Competition, please visit the "Nikon Small World" Web site at The entry deadline is April 28, 2006.

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory develops and operates state-of-the-art high-magnetic-field facilities that faculty and visiting scientists and engineers use for research in physics, biology, bioengineering, chemistry, geochemistry, biochemistry, and materials science. The laboratory is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the State of Florida and is the only facility of its kind in the United States. To learn more, please visit