Dorit Hockman / Cambridge
The Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition has been celebrating the wonders of microscopic realms since 1975. The judges for the 2012 contest sifted through hundreds of entries to come up with their top 20. This 20th-place entry was submitted by the University of Cambridge's Dorit Hockman. The brightfield image shows three black mastiff bat embryos (Molossus rufu) at progressive stages of development. The wings get longer and the ears get bigger during later stages. Click onward to count down to the top-rated image.
Somayeh Naghiloo / Univ. of Tabriz
This colorful image of a garlic plant's floral primordia won 19th place in the Nikon Small World contest. Primordia are bumps of cells that represent the youngest stage of a flower. The image, which takes advantage of a technique known as epi-illumination, was submitted by Somayeh Naghiloo of the University of Tabriz in Iran.
Weirdly shaped bits of coral sand are spread out in this 100x brightfield image by David Maitland, a zoologist and photographer living in the English village of Feltwell. The picture won 18th place in the Nikon Small World contest.
Charles Krebs of Issaquah, Wash., won 17th place in the Nikon Small World contest for this 100x image of a stinging tip attached to a vein on a nettle leaf. The microscopic image was made using transmitted light.
Douglas Moore / UW-Stevens Point
This cross section of fossilized Turitella agate contains ancient freshwater snails (Elimia tenera) and ostracods (seed shrimp). The 7x picture earned 16th place for Douglas Moore, an agate connoisseur at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.
Andrea Genre / Univ. of Turin
A section of a ladybug's leg glitters in this 10x confocal image from the University of Turin's Andrea Genre. The picture won 15th place in the Nikon Small World contest.
Jose R. Almodovar Rivera / Univ. of PR-Mayaguez
Pinks, oranges and yellows abound in this 10x picture of the pistil from a desert rose (Adenium obesum). The 14th-place picture takes advantage of an image-stacking technique and was entered by José R. Almodovar Rivera of the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez.
Diana Lipscomb / GWU
This 400x image, submitted by George Washington University's Diana Lipscomb, shows a type of protozoan known as Sonderia. These are cilates that prey upon various algae, diatoms and cyanobacteria. The image was made using Nomarski interference contrast, and won 13th place in the Nikon Small World contest.
Esra Guc / EPFL
The Nikon Small World contest's 12th-place image is this 200x view of lymphatic endothelial cells and fibroblasts, coated on Cytodex beads and seeded in 3-D fibrin gels. The picture, entered by Esra Guc of Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, was made using fluorescence and confocal microscopy.
Jessica Von Stetina / Whitehead Institute
This 25x confocal image shows a section of the gut in a fruit-fly larva expressing a reporter for Notch signaling pathway activity (green), and stained with cytoskeletal (red) and nuclear (blue) markers. The picture won 11th place in the Nikon Small World Contest for Jessica Von Stetina of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
Alvaro Migotto / Univ. of Sao Paulo
Alvaro Migotto of the University of Sao Paulo won 10th place in the Nikon Small World contest for this 8x view of a brittle star. The image takes advantage of stereomicroscopy and darkfield imaging.
This 5x photomicrograph, which uses reflected light and image stacking, shows an ant carrying its larva. The image, submitted by Geir Drange of Asker, Norway, won ninth place in the Nikon Small World contest.
Gerd A. Guenther
This 500x view of a sea gooseberry larva (Pleurobrachia sp.) was captured using a technique known as differential interference contrast. The picture earned eighth place in the Nikon Small World contest for Gerd A. Guenther of Düsseldorf, Germany.
Michael Bridge / Univ. of Utah
The University of Utah's Michael John Bridge captured this 60x picture of the eye organ of a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) using confocal microscopy. The picture won seventh place in the Nikon Small World contest.
This colorful 100x view of Cosmarium algae near a Sphagnum leaf was captured in polarized light by Marek Mis of Suwalki, Poland. The picture won sixth-place honors in the Nikon Small World contest.
Honorio Cócera-La Parra / Univ. of Valencia
Tiny spheres of cacoxenite mineral from Spain's La Paloma Mine take on a fiery glow in this 18x transmitted-light image, submitted by Honorio Cócera-La Parra of the University of Valencia. It's the fifth-place finisher in the Nikon Small World contest.
W. Ryan Williamson / HHMI
This 1500x confocal image focuses on the visual system of a fruit fly, almost halfway through pupal development. The retina is shown in gold, photoreceptor axons in blue, and brain tissue in green. The picture earned fourth place in the Nikon Small World contest for W. Ryan Williamson of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Dylan Burnette / NIH
This 63x image shows human bone cancer, with actin filaments in purple, mitochondria in yellow and DNA in blue. The third-place picture was produced using structured illumination microscopy and submitted by Dylan Burnette of the National Institutes of Health.
Live newborn lynx spiders take center stage in this second-place image by Walter Piorkowski of South Beloit, Ill. The 6x photomicrograph takes advantage of reflected light, fiber optics and image stacking.
Top honors in the 2012 Nikon Small World contest go to this confocal 20x view of the blood-brain barrier in a zebrafish embryo. The picture was captured by Jennifer Peters and Michael Taylor of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and it's thought to be the first image showing formation of the blood-brain barrier in a live animal.