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These Microscopic Videos Make Everyday Animals Look Alien

“You’re really getting a completely different observation about something”

Image via Nikon

If you remember the mesmerizing photos that came out of Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition, then you’ll be pleased to hear the company took it up a notch by hosting another competition, this time focused on microscopic videos. Now in its fifth year, Nikon’s Small World In Motion contest awards videographers who make us rethink our surroundings on a microscopic level.


On Wednesday, Nikon announced the winners, choosing Stanford physicist William Gilpin’s footage of an eight-week-old starfish larva snatching food. According to a press release, Gilpin and his colleagues were observing the starfish larva in order to better understand the relationship between physics and evolution. Through their microscopes, they discovered the complex process by which starfish larvae manipulate the surrounding water to consume algae, producing a gorgeous visual in the process.

As one of the judges, biologist and science writer Dr. Joe Hanson looked for videos that were, from a scientific standpoint, “technically excellent” and “captured their technique perfectly.” While the overarching theme focused on innovation, Hanson stresses that this was an art competition, too. “These people are being creative with their work, they’re not just getting the data,” says Hanson. The winning video of the starfish larva, for example, showcases a never-before-seen biological occurrence while also presenting it in a way that is hypnotizing to watch. While it may not seem obvious to most of us, the parallels between art and science are clear for Hanson. As he explains,

“When you do a scientific investigation, you’re asking the question, you’re looking at previous work, you’re collecting information and observations, and putting it all together to create something new. And to me, that’s exactly what artists do.”

Getting this point across—that science and art are naturally intertwined—not only makes both disciplines more accessible, but enjoyable as well. By looking at scientific evidence in new and exciting ways, we can realize that the vast universes we hope to explore exist just as much in our own backyards as they do light-years away. Taking a series of still images and giving them life enables us to peer even deeper into these previously unknown worlds. “You’re really getting a completely different observation about something that you just can’t get from measuring a chemical, a temperature, or looking at a still microscope image,” says Hanson, “Sometimes you need to see that dynamic, moving change over time.”

Keep scrolling to see glimpses into these new universes for yourself below.

First Place

“An eight-week-old starfish larva creates vortices in order to capture its main food source, swimming algae” by William Gilpin, Dr. Vivek N. Prakash, and Dr. Manu Prakash

Second Place

“The predatory ciliate (Lacrymaria olor)” by Charles Krebs Photography

Third Place

“The fungus Aspergillus niger growing fruiting bodies” by Wim van Egmond

Honorable Mention

“In vitro visualization of natural killer cells attacking a cancer cell” by Tsutomu Tomita

Honorable Mention

Rotifer (Collotheca spec.) with tentacles” by Frank Fox

Honorable Mention

“Blood circulation in the tail of a cane toad tadpole (Bufo Marinus)” by Ralph Grimm

Honorable Mention

“Self-organization of purified proteins important in bacterial cell division” by Dr. Anthony Vecchiarelli and Dr. Kiyoshi Mizuuchi

Honorable Mention

“Aquatic (freshwater) tubeworm” by Ralph Grimm

Honorable Mention

Neurons seeded in two different micro-compartments extend their neurites through micro-tunnels to establish connections with each other” by Dr. Renaud Renault

Honorable Mention

“Micrasterias rotata cell division” by Wim van Egmond

To see all the contest winners, head over to Nikon Small World in Motion, or check out the compilation video here.

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