My picks from the 2010 Olympus BioScapes Winners

This year's winner of the BioScapes digital imaging competition, Igor Siwanowicz, triumphed with a somewhat unusual portrait. To most biologists, it should be clear what anatomical structures are shown here - but what species could this be?

Igor Siwanowicz, Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology, Munich, Germany.
First Prize, 2010 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

click through for the answer, and for my picks of the other winners. . .

That's Dr. Siwanowicz' frontal section of Daddy Longlegs (Phalangium opilio) eyes, showing lenses (two large ovals), retinas and optic nerves. (The image was generated by depth color-coding of a confocal image stack.) It's just more evidence that the eye is one of the most complex and beautiful structures in biology, whether you find it in a mammal or an arachnid (which a Daddy Longlegs is - although it's not a spider).

The judges selected ten winners and several dozen Honorable Mentions, using both aesthetic and scientific criteria (Olympus specifies three: "Science - Uniqueness of the specimen or processes shown, importance of work, new information revealed, "story" told;" "Aesthetics - Beauty or impact of the image, balance, composition;" "Technical merit - Challenge of specimen itself - difficulty of capturing structures or data shown, photographic excellence.") I didn't completely agree with the judges' selections, but picking winners at all must have been like comparing apples, oranges, and watermelons. How you weigh the difficulty of producing the image, the scientific advances it represents, and the aesthetic success of the end product, is necessarily a highly subjective balancing process. So I decided to pick a few of the Honorable Mentions that I would have bumped up in the rankings, and share those with you.

Here's my favorite image of all, by Laurie Knight of the UK. I love, love, love this! I want to wear it. If it were a fabric, would it be silk, or copper, or cellophane? I don't care, I want a ball gown made of this substance:

Wing scales of Sunset moth (Uranea ripheus). Episcopic illumination.
Laurie Knight, Tonbridge, Kent, UK.
Honorable Mention, 2010 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

Gerald Rohringer offered this fierce portrait of a warrior more ancient than Rome:

Head and thorax of an Argentine ant (Linepithema humile).
Stereomicroscopy, 44 stacked images.
Gerhard Rohringer, Santa Barbara, CA, USA.
Honorable Mention, 2010 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

I like this one by Stephen Nagy because at a distance it resembles a Technicolor-extravaganza-era synchronized swimming performance. Then you realize that there are no bodies to go with the legs, because they're not starlets, they're crystalline diatoms. Eerie!

Diatom Didymosphenia geminata.
Image captured using interference microscopy.
Stephen S. Nagy, Helena, MT, USA.
Honorable Mention, 2010 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

This image by Thomas Deerinck belongs in Portraits of the Mind:

Mouse retina, captured using confocal imaging.
Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.
Honorable Mention, 2010 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

Mr. Deerinck also won second place overall, for an impressionistic view of rat hippocampus that looks a little like a Seurat executed in a Monet palette. It's also lovely, but I like this one better - there's just so much detail to dwell on.

My picks are only a handful of several dozen wonderful images at the BioScapes gallery, and I've mainly picked Honorable Mentions, not the winners! So I encourage you to go browse the gallery for yourself - especially since I was unable to embed Ralph Grimm's video of an adorable, tubby little water bear (tardigrade) waddling across a glass slide. It only got an honorable mention, but for cuteness, it stole the microscopic show. . . .

. . . or it would have, if Laurie Knight's weevil hadn't gotten there first.

Weevil (possibly Curculio nucum or Curculio glandium).
Image captured using episcopic illumination.
Laurie Knight, Tonbridge, Kent, UK.
Tenth Prize, 2010 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

I never thought I'd say this about a weevil: Awwwwww.


Enter the 2011 competition
PC screensavers representing the winners' images

Twenty of the 2010 winning and Honorable Mention BioScapes images will be displayed at the San Diego Natural History Museum from December 2010 to February 2011, continuing to venues in New York City, suburban Washington D.C., Providence, R.I., Baltimore and other cities and countries throughout 2011. View the museum tour details for 2010 here.

All images courtesy of Olympus BioScapes; copyright remains with the creators. Please contact BioScapes for permission to reuse photos or further information.

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