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(Pocket-lint) - Camera manufacturer Nikon has been running the International Small World Competition since 1975. Now over 40 years old, the competition celebrates the very best in photomicrography.

A photomicrograph is a digital image taken through a microscope to magnify an object several times to show close up features at a scale visible for us to see.

Anyone, anywhere can enter the Nikon Small World competition, with the subject matter left entirely open so participants can choose to take photos of whatever they wish. A panel of expert judges looks over all the entries before deciding upon 20 winners each year

We're taking a look back at all the first prize winners dating back to the competition's inception in 1975.

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James Dvorak/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 2

1975: James Dvorak, USA

  • Subject Matter: Oxalic acid crystals during Precipitation
  • Magnification: 100x
  • Technique: Transmitted Polarized Light with a Berek Quartz Wedge

James Dvoark has employed the use of polarised light in this image. Polarised light is formed by passing light through a polarising filter to transmit light in just one direction. Microscopes have two polarising filters, one above and one below the sample, these are called the polariser and the analyser respectively. Polarised light can help reveal the structure and composition of samples, which is clearly shown in James' image.

Eric V. Gravé/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 3

1976: Eric V. Gravé, New York, USA

  • Subject Matter: Encysted Parasitic round worm (trichinella spirals)
  • Magnification: 50x
  • Technique: Differential Interference Contrast

Differential Interference Contrast (DIC) produces contrast by visually displaying the refractive index gradients of different areas of a specimen. It's a relatively complex microscopy method, developed by Georges Nomarski in 1952. 

James W. Smith/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 4

James W. Smith, Independence, Ohio, USA

  • Subject Matter: Crystals of rutile (titanium dioxide) and tridymite (a polymorph of quartz) in a cobalt-rich glass
  • Magnification: 350x
  • Technique: Nomarski Differential Interference Contrast

The 1977 winner of the Small World Competition also used DIC to produce the final image. The crystals in the image wouldn't have been so colourful to the naked eye, so the bright colours have been produced using the DIC method.

David Gnizak/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 5

1978: David Gnizak, Independence, Ohio, USA

  • Subject Matter: Gold, vaporized in a tungsten boat, in a vacuum evaporator
  • Magnification: 55x
  • Technique: Nomarski Differential Interference Contrast

DIC must have become a popular method for photomicrography fans as it produced yet another winner in 1978.

Paul W. Johnson/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 6

1979: Paul W. Johnson, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, USA

  • Subject Matter: Stalked protozoan attached to a filamentous green algae with bacteria on its surface
  • Magnification: 160x
  • Technique: Nomarski Differential Interference Contrast

1979 would see the last of a solid winning run for the DIC method, but only until 1981.

James M. King/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 7

1980: James M. King, UC Santa Barbara, Marine Science Institute, Santa Barbara, California, USA

  • Subject Matter: Larvacean within its feeding structure dyed with red organic carmine which the larvacean syphoned in while filter feeding
  • Magnification: 20x
  • Technique: Underwater camera with multiple extension tubes

An extension tube is a component that fits between the camera and the lens, with the purpose of moving the lens away from the camera's internal sensor. It provides a simple and cheaper way of getting closer to the subject without paying for an expensive macro lens. 

David Gnizak/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 8

1981: David Gnizak, Ferro Corporation Research Center, Independence, Ohio, USA

  • Subject Matter: Collapsed bubbles from an annealed experimental electronic sealing glass
  • Magnification: 55x
  • Technique: Reflected Light, Nomarski Differential Interference Contrast

We promised another Differential Interface Contrast photo winner in 1981 and here it is. This example by now multiple award winner David Gnizak is yet more proof that photomicrography can produce stunning works of art.

Dr. Jonathan Eisenback/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 9

1982: Dr. Jonathan Eisenback, North Carolina State University, Department of Plant Pathology, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

  • Subject Matter:: Silverberry scaly hair whole mount
  • Magnification: 400x
  • Technique:: Brightfield

Brightfield is seen as the simplest form of photomicrography and involves light being passed through, or in some cases reflected off a specimen. This image shows a Silver berry scaly hair flowering plant, magnified 400 times.

Elieen Roux/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 10

1983: Elieen Roux, Bob Hope International Heart Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA

  • Subject Matter: Suctorian attached to stalk of red algae, encircled by ring of diatoms
  • Magnification: 125x
  • Technique: Darkfield

Darkfield microscopy is a method used to create contrast in unstained samples. Resulting images have a bright sample and an incredibly dark background. 

John I. Koivula/Nikon Small World Amazing Images from a Small World image 11

1984: John I. Koivula, Gemological Institute of America, Carlsbad, California, USA

  • Subject Matter: Inclusions of goethite and hematite in Brazilian agate
  • Magnification: 30x
  • Technique: Transmitted Light with Reflected Fiber-optic Illumination

While not specified for this image, a fiber-optic ring light is the most widely used form of finer-optic illumination. It's fixed in position and surrounds the entire microscope, meaning it can provide a consistent quality of light onto the sample.