Science as Art: Nikon’s 2003 Small World Competition Travels to The Wistar Institute

Science as Art: Nikon’s 2003 Small World Competition Travels to The Wistar Institute

December 1, 2003

(PHILADELPHIA–December 2, 2003) — Scientists use photomicrography — photography through the microscope — as a valuable technique to support their research, capturing images of biological and chemical processes invisible to the naked eye. But such images are often objects of beauty, worthy of appreciation for their aesthetics as much for their functionality as research tools.

Twenty prize-winning images from Nikon’s 2003 Small World Competition, an annual photomicrography contest, will be on display at The Wistar Institute from December 4 to 19, the first stop of a national museum tour. An independent biomedical research center in Philadelphia, Wistar is one of only eight National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers nationwide.

“This competition bridges the worlds of science and art,” says James E. Hayden, manager of Wistar’s Microscopy Facility. Hayden, who has previously been a judge for and a winner in the Small World Competition, is coordinator of the exhibition at Wistar. “People are drawn to beautiful images, independent of the subject matter. With specimens in the exhibit ranging from polymers and microchips to cancer cells and nerve fibers, viewers will inevitably comment, ‘It’s beautiful — what is it?’ The beauty of the image will draw them in first, but a second look will give them a better understanding of what kind of work is being done at the frontiers of science.”

The exhibition kicks off at Wistar on Wednesday, December 3, at 6:30 p.m. with an invitation-only opening reception in the Institute’s atrium, where the prize-winning images will be on display. The event is sponsored by Nikon Instruments dealer Optical Apparatus, of Ardmore, Pa., and will feature as guest speaker Lee Shuett, executive vice president of Nikon Instruments, Inc.

“This year’s best photomicrographers are studying cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart failure, reproductive disorders, marine and plant life, materials science, and more,” Shuett said at the exhibition’s opening in New York City in September. “Each of them [sat] at a microscope, found something beautiful, and sent it to us to share with you.”

Wistar is complementing the 2003 Nikon gallery of winning images with an additional collection of past winning entries from local photomicrographers and a display on microscopy through the years featuring materials from The Wistar Archives.

Included in the exhibit are an 1830s handmade Plössl microscope used by pioneering scientist William E. Horner, photos of samples taken through this 19th-century instrument with a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, books, portraits, and other artifacts. A collection of microscopes used by Warren H. and Margaret Reed Lewis brings the timeline into the 1940s and includes the instrument Warren Lewis used to make the world’s first time-lapse movie of dividing cells. A Wistar-created movie juxtaposes digitized versions of Lewis’s time-lapse movies with current-day time-lapse movies of living cells.

Hours for the exhibition at Wistar are December 4 to 19, Monday to Friday only, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with two exceptions: The exhibition closes at 3 p.m. on December 4, and at noon on December 19. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Founded in 1975 to recognize excellence in photography through the microscope, the annual Nikon Small World Competition is regarded as the leading forum for recognizing the beauty and complexity of life through the light microscope.

An online gallery of images, as well as more information about the contest, is available at

EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution versions of the 20 winning images, suitable for print publication, are available from The Wistar Institute press office.

The Wistar Institute is an independent nonprofit biomedical research institution dedicated to discovering the causes and cures for major diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases. Founded in 1892 as the first institution of its kind in the nation, The Wistar Institute today is a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center - one of only eight focused on basic research. Discoveries at Wistar have led to the development of vaccines for such diseases as rabies and rubella, the identification of genes associated with breast, lung, and prostate cancer, and the development of monoclonal antibodies and other significant research technologies and tools.