Virtual Baby Quail Tops Nikon Contest's Video Menu

You can see the insides of a tiny quail in its egg, slice by virtual slice, in an amazing video that took top honors in the third annual Nikon Small World in Motion competition.

Portuguese biologist Gabriel Martins of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia won first place for his 3-D reconstruction of a whole quail embryo after 10 days of gestation. The embryo measures less than an inch (23 millimeters) long.

The video takes advantage of a technique known as optical tomography — which is like a CT scan, but in optical wavelengths rather than X-rays. This virtual quail reconstruction is assembled from more than 1,000 microscope images. It's groundbreaking enough to be discussed in the journal Database.

Nikon recognizes amazing photomicrography through its annual Small World competition for still photos as well as the Small World in Motion competition for videos. The three top winners in the video contest were awarded a total of $6,000 in credits toward Nikon products.

Michael Weber of Germany's Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics won second prize for his 13-second view of the beating heart of a 2-day-old zebrafish embryo. The heart is only 250 micrometers wide — a bit bigger than the diameter of a human hair — but under the microscope, you can watch individual blood cells coursing through the chambers and adjacent vessels.

The 3-D color-coded view was captured using light sheet fluorescence microscopy.

Third prize went to Lin Shao of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia. Nikon says Shao's video provides the very first 3-D view of the inner details of mitochondria inside a living cell — in this case, a HeLa cancer cell. The HeLa cell line, and the family behind it, was the subject of an award-winning book titled "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

Now Shao's take on the HeLa cell is an award-winner as well. He used structured illuminated microscopy with a wide-field microscope, doubling the normal resolution of a conventional microscope.

Nikon said another 10 entries would be recognized with honorable mentions over the course of 2014. For more about Small World in Motion and Nikon's other award-winners, check out the Small World website.

For still more science made visible, feast your eyes on the latest selections from the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge as well as the Olympus BioScapes, Nikon Small World, FEI and Art of Science competitions.