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Life Unseen: Images of Magnificent Microscopic Landscapes [Slide Show]

Scientific American presents this year's winning micro-imaging entries from the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Contest

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Mushroom coral

The corals familiar to most of us are colonies of small polyps that build calcium carbonate branches. But mushroom corals, such as this one, are loners. James Nicholson, a retired medical-imaging specialist, photographed the five-centimeter-wide live specimen of an unidentified species for the Coral Culture and Collaborative Research Facility—a laboratory in Charleston, S.C., operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other institutions—where he works as an unpaid consultant.....[ More ]

Moth wing

We think of moths as grayish, boring-looking nocturnal bugs. But the sunset moth of Madagascar, or Chrysiridia rhipheus , is a diurnal creature with beautifully iridescent wings. Scales on the wings have multiple layers of cuticle with varying nanometer-scale spacings between them that produce colors by optical interference.....[ More ]

Honey mushroom

Reminiscent of the sensuous folds in some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, the mushroom underside visible in the middle image was photographed by Neil Egan of Cleveland. Honey mushrooms are common around the facility where he works (as a quality-control technician for a manufacturer of automotive finishes); he found this one growing on a dead tree stump.....[ More ]

Flea organ

Vintage microscopy slides—especially those from the Victorian era—are collectors’ items that hobbyists buy online or in specialized shops. David Walker, a retired petrol chemist from Huddersfield, England, produced this detail of a flea specimen (showing a 0.7-millimeter-long sensory organ called a sensillum) by training his lens on a late-1800s or early-1900s prepared slide he bought on eBay for $15 or so.....[ More ]

Actin filaments

Nucleated cells have an internal scaffolding called a cytoskeleton, made in part of filaments of the protein actin. The image shows purified-actin filaments (tens of microns long) that Dennis Breitsprecher grew on a dish when he was a biochemistry graduate student at Hannover Medical School in Germany.....[ More ]

Spider eyes

First prize in the BioScapes competition went to Igor Siwanowicz of the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology near Munich for his confocal microscope picture of the eyes of a daddy longlegs. The false-color image shows a cutaway view of the eyes, with the lenses ( two large ovals ), which are spaced less than a millimeter apart, and the retinas, which consist of a single layer of rodlike photoreceptor cells that give the spider rather poor, monochromatic vision.....[ More ]

Blackfly larva

Tens of thousands of tiny creatures resembling polyps can sometimes be seen attached to rocks or aquatic plants on a single square meter of Normandy’s riverbeds, extending their tentacles (or “cephalic fans”) to capture particles of food, says Fabrice Parais, a hydrobiologist at the Regional Directorate for Environment, Land-Use Planning and Housing.....[ More ]

Weed stamens

The henbit deadnettle is a common weed. Edwin K. Lee, a retired microbiologist, picked one from the roadside near his home in Carrollton, Tex., to see if it might make an interesting subject for his microscope.....[ More ]

Beetle leg

Spike Walker, a retired biology lecturer based in Penkridge, England, was striving for visual abstraction when he captured a detail of a Dytiscus water beetle’s front leg. Walker used a type of darkfield microscopy in which the object is shot against a blue screen.....[ More ]

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