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Credit: Courtesy of Igor Siwanowicz, 2011 Nikon Small World

Visitors viewed bugs, blades of grass and grains of beach sand through a new lens Friday evening at Nikon Small World Exhibition.

The Wistar Institute hosted the annual exhibition, which featured the top 20 entries of the 37th annual worldwide Photomicrography Competition.

Photomicrography is the art of photographing with microscopes. Photographers use techniques ranging from staining cells with different proteins — tweaking the color and lighting of the images — to the straightforward method of taking an incredibly magnified close-up with a microscope.

“It is a way of seeing the beauty in the combination of art and science,” said Wistar Institute Director of Communications Staci Vernick Goldberg.

The winning entry was a portrait of a lacewing fly larva which featured a vibrantly colored magnification of the bug’s head. It evoked both beauty in the detail and other-worldliness in the extraterrestrial quality of the bug’s mandibles.

Other entries were no less eye-opening. The second place entry magnified a blade of grass until it seemed almost ethereal.

“Any person anywhere with a microscope can do it, whether [you’re] using a microscope bought from eBay or a $600,000 confocal microscope.,” said James Hayden, manager of the Wistar Institute’s Microscopy Facility. Hayden is also a microscopy enthusiast and has placed in previous competitions.

He said that the competition has had winners who were from entirely non-scientific backgrounds, such as a farmer from Germany and a priest from the Netherlands.

“There’s been a shift in the last five years in the judging,” said Hayden, adding that there used to be an emphasis on the technical proficiency but that there is now more focus on visual appeal.

Photomicrographs have scientific value, but the eye-popping visual aspects and aesthetic appeal led scientists to pursue microscopy actively as a personal hobby.

Some entries had subjects relevant to the Wistar Institute’s research in cancer treatment, displaying cells taken using cancer cell-identification and imaging techniques.

“They’re great … really fascinating,” said College freshman Oscar Serpell, who has been attending the event for several years.

The exhibition will go on for six weeks at the Wistar Institute and is free and open to the public.

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