The year was 1665. a young english scientist named robert hooke had published a book called Micrographia that was soon to become a best seller. The book contained Hooke's descriptions and exquisite illustrations of previously invisible details of the natural world, made using the compound microscope he invented: the jointed legs of a flea, the many-lensed eyes of a drone fly, the stellar shapes of snowflakes. Perhaps most remarkable of all were his observations of thin slices of cork (a plant material), which, his microscope revealed, were composed of a honeycomblike array of compartments. He named these structures “cells.”

Three hundred and fifty years later microscopy continues to expose the extraordinary in the mundane, deepening our understanding of the world we live in—sometimes to great aesthetic effect. In the pages that follow, Scientific American celebrates that marriage of science and art with a selection of images from the 2014 Olympus BioScapes International Digital Imaging Competition. From the Kraken-like armor of a marine plankton dating to 37.6 million years ago to the seemingly machine-tooled gearwheels that power a young plant hopper insect's jumbo jumps, these images affirm that beauty can be found all around us—we have only to look through the right lens.