It's a good thing we don't yet have Smell-o-Vision: A sulfur compound has the starring role in this winning picture from the 2010 Small World Microphotography Competition, whose top images were announced Wednesday.
To make the image, John Hart of the University of Colorado, Boulder, melted together sulfur (picture) and acetanilide, a toxic substance once used as an antiseptic. The mixture then formed crystals, seen here magnified ten times under specially polarized light.
Sponsored by Nikon, the annual contest showcases "the beauty and complexity of life as seen through the light microscope."
Image courtesy John Hart, Nikon Small World
19th Place: Rat Retina
Ropy red strands glow in a tiny slice of a Wistar rat's retina, as seen under hundred-power magnification in a prizewinning picture created by Cameron Johnson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
The Wistar is a particular strain of albino rat used widely for research. Descended from one brood developed in 1906, most of the "lab rats" used today are Wistars, according to the Wistar Institute.
Image courtesy Cameron Johnson, Nikon Small World
18th Place: Soap Film
Rub-a-dub-dub, 16 bubbles on a microscope slide: These psychedelic orbs are tiny circles of soap film, photographed with simple lighting and 150-power magnification.
Many microphotography pictures use heavy-duty polarization or fluorescence to achieve a unique look, but Gerd Guenther, of Düsseldorf, Germany, captured this picture with "bright field" lighting: the straightforward, light-from-beneath method familiar from high school microscopes.
If you were an insect larva, this view would be extremely frightening. The compound eye of an inchneumon wasp, seen at 40-power magnification, looms large in this winning picture by Charles Krebs of Issaquah, Washington.
Inchneumon wasps are, by and large, parasitic. Most wasps in the family seek out the larvae of other insects, such as flies or beetles, and inject them with eggs. The eggs hatch inside the bodies of their hosts, and as the young wasps eat and eat, their host organisms slowly die.
Glowing balls of pollen stick to the stigma of a four o'clock flower in this multiple-exposure composite image by Robert Markus of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The picture was made with fluorescent light, which caused the pollen to light up blue. (Related: glowing animals.)
Also known as marvel of Peru flowers, four o' clock flowers (Mirabilis jalapa) are used to make food coloring.
Image courtesy Robert Markus, Nikon Small World
15th Place: Lichen's Liquid
Acid harvested from a lichen plant is seen in polarized light at ten-power magnification.
This lichen species, Evernia divaricata, lives on slow-growing, coniferous trees throughout Europe, North America, and central Asia, according to the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway. The species grows bowl-shaped fruiting bodies lined with bright-yellow spores.
This lucky mushroom coral—photographed at 166-power magnification by James Nicholson at a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) facility in Charleston, South Carolina—got to enjoy its time in the micro-spotlight while still alive.
Many of the life-forms in microscopic pictures are killed before being mounted on a microscope slide, since chasing, say, a writhing nematode with a strong microscope would be a challenge.
Here the coral is bathed in fluorescent light, which accounts for the glowing, blue fringes.
Image courtesy James Nicholson, Nikon Small World
12th Place: Baby Mollusk
A tiny juvenile file clam is magnified ten times in a winning picture by Gregory Rouse of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.
File clams, of the order Limidae, are related to scallops. The clams spin nests of threads to stay attached to their sandy seafloor homes, and some file clams can jump by quickly expelling water, according to a Washington State University Web page.
Image courtesy Gregory Rouse, Nikon Small World
11th Place: Cancer
Cancerous cells glow green thanks to a genetic insertion of green fluorescent protein. (Learn more about GFP in our glowing-animals photo gallery.) Paul D. Andrews of the University of Dundee in Scotland created the picture using fluorescent light.
The cells are derived from the "HeLa" line of cancer cells, a long-running series originally derived from a 1951 sample of cervical cancer taken from the deceased patient Henrietta Lacks. Medical companies cultivated her cancer in laboratories and sold samples for research, a practice that proved controversial and was later tested in court.
HeLa cells have been vital for cancer research, and have been employed in more than 60,000 scientific papers, according to the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Apparently not content with their work during the Black Death, fleas have now invaded the world of microscope photography. Duane Harland captured this dog flea, or Ctenocephalides canis, with fluorescent light at ten-power magnification, winning ninth place in the 2010 Small World Microphotography Competition.
Image courtesy Honorio Cocera-La Parra, Nikon Small World
7th Place: Vessel Lining
You're filled with these, most likely: endothelial cells, which line the interiors of blood vessels, capillaries, arteries, and your heart. The cells help hold blood in and encourage it to move along, discouraging clots. In smokers, endothelial cells start misbehaving early on, and are thought to be useful predictors of heart attacks or strokes.
In this picture by Yongli Shan of Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, the fluorescent-lighted cells—attached to synthetic microfibers (blue)—are magnified 2,500 times.
Image courtesy Yongli Shan, Nikon Small World
6th Place: Red Seaweed
Pictured in ordinary light, a red seaweed of the genus Martensia is shown under 40-power magnification in an image by John Huisman of Murdoch University in Australia.
A seed from a bird-of-paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, is magnified ten times in this picture by Viktor Sykora of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. A popular ornamental, the plant is likely named for its flower's resemblance to a bird's head.
Magnified ten times, the flocculent interior of a wasp's nest is captured by Riccardo Talariol of La Spezia, Italy.
The image was made through stereomicroscopy, which uses two lenses to make a stereo pair of pictures. Above, this image was made crisper through a computer-generated combination of the stereo halves—a process known as extended depth of field stereomicroscopy.
Image courtesy Riccardo Talariol, Nikon Small World
3rd Place: Fish "Noses"
The olfactory bulbs, or smell organs, of zebrafish are seen in a 250-power magnified image by Oliver Braubach of Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Zebrafish were popular this year (see previous photo). This 20-power picture of a five-day-old zebrafish's head by Hideo Otsuna of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City placed second in the competition.
In addition to inhabiting home aquariums, zebrafish are often used by genetic researchers. There's an entire scientific journal dedicated to the creature—named, of course, Zebrafish. And the fish can regenerate its fins, skin, heart, and brain under some conditions, according to a paper in the journal Nature.
Image courtesy Hideo Otsuna, Nikon Small World
1st Place: The Tell-Tale Heart
Spread by mosquitoes, malaria kills someone every 30 seconds. Researcher Jonas King, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, hopes to do something about it, and his hundred-power image of a mosquito heart might help.
"Mosquitoes remain one of the greatest scourges of mankind," said King in a statement, and this image—which won first place in the 2010 Small World Microphotography Competition—lays bare the intricate structures of the mosquito circulatory system that allow the insects to spread the virus.
A school of fish clump into a ball to guard against predators. The 50 megapixel panorama was taken in October 2009 near the Galapagos Islands. It is made up of 19 individual photographs stitched together.
Weird & Wild
Feral Cities: How Animals are Going Urban Like Never Before
In his new book, Tristan Donovan takes us to the frontlines of people coping with a rise in urban wildlife, from boars in Berlin to boa constrictors in Miami.
Weird & Wild
Birds "Walk" on Water to Impress Mates—Here's How They Do It
Frantic foot slaps and a wonky stride allow "dancing" grebes to skim the surface without sinking, a new study says.