Never has a lab coat looked so much like an artist’s smock. The Nikon International Small World Competition has been “recognizing excellence in photography through the microscope” since 1974, capturing the rarely-seen world that stays invisible to the naked eye.
 
Curious? According to their site:
 
A photomicrograph is a technical document that can be of great significance to science or industry. But a good photomicrograph is also an image whose structure, color, composition, and content is an object of beauty, open to several levels of comprehension and appreciation.
 

 
Now, call  me shallow, but the close-ups of intestines, cancer cells, and bugs, while fascinating in their own right, kind of gave me the creeps. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t subject you to that. So I went ahead and selected my own personal winners from 2011. Not that an English degree qualifies me as a judge, but hey, ths is just my “level of comprehension and appreciation.”
 
Some are amazing because of what they are, like a needle and thread, a down feather, a snowflake, or frost crystals (clockwise from top left). This microscopic view of sand from Beijing, however, has to be my favorite (above).
 
Others look remarkably like abstract art, though I couldn’t begin to tell you what they actually are. Unless, of course, you happen to know what a “graphite-bearing granulite from Kerala ” is…(below).
 

 
What really blows my mind is how much some of these photos look like landscape paintings. Scenic hillside, anyone? Oh, no, that’s a “gallium antimonide semiconductor wafer surface after metal peel-off,” actually. Duh.
 

 
Sunset, right? No. Try fire agate magnified by ten. Silly me.
 

 
I’m always a sucker for a holiday theme…
 
Also, since this competition has been active since the mid-1970′s, I figured I should pay homage to the winners of 1977, below. You’d think they’d look a lot more low-tech, am I right?


 
Who knew science could be so pretty?

(Images courtesy of Nikon Small World)