Unburned particles of carbon released when the hydrocarbon chain of candle wax breaks down

Striking pictures reveal the microscopic world’s hidden wonders

The winners of Nikon’s annual Small World photography contest reveal tiny marvels of the natural world that are normally hidden from sight.

A delicate puff of smoke particles, comprising unburnt carbon from candle wax, streams upward from the candle’s still-smoldering wick. Photographer Ole Bielfeldt created the image in his studio, using an extremely fast shutter speed (1/8000) and a very strong LED light source.
Ole Bielfeldt

Throughout history, humans have struggled to understand the realities that exist beyond our natural perception. Whether it’s the vibrant sensory worlds that non-human animals experience, the immensity of the observable universe, or the inner workings of the microscopic realm, there are countless wonders that humans are unable to see directly.

Fortunately, people have mastered the art of magnifying and capturing the minuscule. And every year, Nikon’s Small World Photomicrography Competition celebrates images that bring these diminutive worlds into view. For the competition’s 48th year, four judges sifted through nearly 1,300 submissions and selected a handful of entries that rose to the top.

Announced today, the winner is an image from University of Geneva researchers Grigorii Timin and Michel Milinkovitch that shows the hand of an embryonic Madagascar giant day gecko. Created using microscopy and image stitching, the result is a fluorescent vista that reveals the delicate complexity of the gecko’s hand, highlighting the nerves, tendons, ligaments, bones, and blood cells that work synergistically to help these creatures effortlessly scale walls.

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