Reality’s building blocks are too tiny to see, so modern scientists pursue the invisible. The Nikon Small World Competition — which celebrates the most beautiful and mesmerizing microphotography — allows the rest of us to look on in wonder.
This year, the grand prize went to an expressionistic rendering of diatoms (oceanic algae): The single-celled creatures look like glow sticks waving in the darkness. The rear legs of water boatmen — barely visible insects that lurk in ponds and streams — are equally beautiful. (An intense zoom reveals the thorny hairs that allow them to swim against strong currents.) Then there’s the so-called Brainbow, which scientists created by genetically engineering neurons to emit nearly 90 different shades of fluorescent light. (The results have given researchers an unprecedented window into the highways and byways of the cortex.) These pictures may look like art, but they’re actually avant-garde science.
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