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Radical Rotifer

Image of gape-mouthed microscopic critter claims first prize in Nikon Competition.

Rachel Muenz

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Rotifer showing the mouth interior and heart-shaped corona.Rogelio Moreno, First-Place Winner of the 2014 Nikon Small World Photomicrography CompetitionThis year’s Nikon Instruments Small World Competition winner was first announced at an event celebrating the photomicrography competition’s 40th anniversary at the New York Academy of Sciences on Oct. 29. Rogelio Moreno of Panama–who captured a rare shot of an open-mouthed rotifer, along with its heart-shaped corona–was declared the competition’s 40th winner. 

“When you see that movement, you fall in love. I thought–wow, that is amazing. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This is something very, very beautiful,” said Moreno of his first-place image. “I hope now it can inspire others as much as it has inspired me–to learn about science, to look closely and notice something truly amazing.” 

The Top 5 Images:

  1. Rogelio Moreno, Rotifer showing the mouth interior and heart-shaped corona
  2. Alessandro Da Mommio, Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Pisa, Rhombohedral cleavage in calcite crystal
  3. Noah Fram-Schwartz, Jumping spider eyes
  4. Karin Panser, Institute of Molecular Pathology I.M.P., Caterpillar proleg with circle of gripping hooks in red
  5. Dr. Muthugapatti K. Kandasamy, Biomedical Microscopy Core, University of Georgia, Bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cells stained for actin (pink), mitochondria (green) and DNA (yellow).

Moreno, a self-taught microscopist who only started taking photomicrographs in 2009, beat out over 1,200 entries from more than 79 countries around the world for the top prize, his first first-place finish since he started entering the competition three years ago. It was his technique which stood out for the judges in awarding him the competition’s top honor. Capturing the rotifer with its mouth open also required a lot of patience as Moreno had to wait for hours for the right moment. 

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“With the rotifer in constant motion, [Moreno] utilized the flash to freeze the movement as soon as the mouth opened–still leaving him with only a one- or two-second window to take the photo, and possibly only one shot to get it right,” stated Nikon in a press release about Moreno’s technique. “He also used differential interference contrast (DIC) to enhance the coloration in unstained, transparent samples, and to provide a more detailed image of the rotifer.” 

Animals had a strong presence in the best images of 2014, with the top five also including jumping spider eyes and a caterpillar proleg, along with bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cells. The only non-animal image in the top five was the second-place image of rhombohedral cleavage in calcite crystal. Eric Flem, communications manager of Nikon Instruments said he is impressed with the way the Small World competition has evolved over the past four decades. 

“Since the competition began 40 years ago, the caliber in quality and range of subject matter of the images, is matched only by the scientists and photographers who submit them,” Flem said. “So much has changed in science and technology in the past 40 years, opening the door for more and more scientists and artists alike to capture and share their stunning images with the world. A look at our gallery is like a time capsule of the advancements made in the last four decades and truly shows the legacy [the competition] continues to build.” 

The top images from the 2014 competition will be exhibited in a full-color calendar and through a national museum tour. They can be viewed here.

The Judges:

  • Dr. Paul Maddox, assistant professor and William Burwell Harrison Fellow, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; principal investigator, mitotic mechanisms and chromosome dynamics research unit, IRIC
  • Laura Helmuth, science editor, Slate
  • Dave Mosher, online director, Popular Science
  • Michael W. Davidson, director of the Optical and Magneto-Optical Imaging Center at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University