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First place: Dorsal view of bones and scales (blue) and lymphatic vessels (orange) in a juvenile zebrafish. (Daniel Castranova, Dr. Brant Weinstein & Bakary Samasa/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

Second place: Embryonic development of a clownfish (Amphiprion percula) on days one, three, five and nine. (Daniel Knop/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

In a time when everything happening in the world feels so big, it can be therapeutic to slow down and look at the beauty of things that are small. At least, that’s how I felt when combing through the winning images of the 46th annual Nikon Small World microscopy competition. This year, five experts judged entries from around the world based on originality, informational content, technical proficiency and visual impact. From over 2,000 entries, the judges awarded three top winners and recognized 88 other images from scientists and photographers around the world.

The first-place photograph was a stunning image of a juvenile zebrafish, made by stitching together more than 350 images to create the final photo. It was taken by Daniel Castranova, assisted by Bakary Samasa while working in the lab of Brant Weinstein at the National Institutes of Health. In the image, you can see the fluorescently “tagged” skeleton of the fish, as well as its scales, in blue, and lymphatic system, in orange. The photo was made as part of an effort by Castranova’s team that led to a significant discovery that zebrafish have lymphatic vessels in their skulls. This finding could revolutionize research toward treatments of various diseases that affect the human brain, such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

“The image is beautiful, but also shows how powerful the zebrafish can be as a model for the development of lymphatic vessels,” Castranova said. “Until now, we thought this type of lymphatic system associated with the nervous system only occurred in mammals. By studying them, the scientific community can expedite a range of research and clinical innovations — everything from drug trials to cancer treatments. This is because fish are so much easier to raise and image than mammals.”

The beauty and scientific significance of the winning photo highlight one of the major purposes of the Nikon Small World competition.

“For 46 years, the goal of the Nikon Small World competition has been to share microscopic imagery that visually blends art and science for the general public,” said Eric Flem, communications manager at Nikon Instruments. “As imaging techniques and technologies become more advanced, we are proud to showcase imagery that this blend of research, creativity, imaging technology and expertise can bring to scientific discovery. This year’s first-place winner is a stunning example.”

To see more images from the competition, check out @NikonInstruments on Instagram.

Third place: Tongue (radula) of a freshwater snail. (Dr. Igor Siwanowicz/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

Fifth place: Bogong moth. (Ahmad Fauzan/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

Sixth place: Hebe plant anther with pollen. (Dr. Robert Markus & Zsuzsa Markus/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

Seventh place: Microtubules (orange) inside a cell. The nucleus is shown in cyan. (Jason Kirk/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

10th place: Daphnia magna (Phyllopoda). (Ahmad Fauzan/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

12th Place: Human hair. (Robert Vierthaler/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

13th place: Crystals formed after heating an ethanol and water solution containing L-glutamine and beta-alanine. (Justin Zoll/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

14th place: Leaf roller weevil (Byctiscus betulae). (?zgür Kerem Bulur/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

16th place: Nylon stockings. (Alexander Klepnev/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

17th place: Ventral view of an immature water boatman. (Anne Algar/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

19th place: Silica cell wall of the marine diatom Arachnoidiscus sp. (Dr. Jan Michels/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

20th place: Skeleton preparation of a short-tailed fruit bat embryo. (Dr. Dorit Hockman & Dr. Vanessa Chong-Morrison/Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

Honorable mention: Mouse paw infected with chikungunya virus (pink). Immune response is shown in blue and general tissue in orange. (Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

Image of distinction: Fluorescent egg chambers from the ovary of a fruit fly. (Courtesy of Nikon Small World)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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