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Watch: Micro-Droplets, Onion Cells, and Larva Race in Video Competition

microscopic view of cytoplasmic streaming in onion cells
Nikon Instruments, Inc.

For the past ten years, Nikon has been hosting the “Small World in Motion” competition, which shines a spotlight on the people who use creativity and ingenuity to record the beauty of the very tiny. This year’s winners have just been announced, and, as usual, the videos don’t disappoint.

First Place: Blob Monster

This year, the first-place winners came from researchers Kazi Rabbi and Dr. Xiao Yan at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who added a microscopic lens to a high-speed camera to capture miro-droplets made of 80% water and 20% ethanol coming together. The film is slowed down 200 times so that viewers can see just how droplets are drawn to each other—and it kind of looks like a giant blob monster eating up smaller blobs.

When they’re not directing super-slow-motion blob movies, Yan and Rabbi work to develop surfaces that enhance the condensation and subsequent evaporation of liquids.

“Think about anything from keeping the pipes from freezing in winter to making your air conditioning unit run more efficiently,” said Rabbi. “If we can develop surfaces and materials that better repel liquids, we can create appliances, power systems, and other technologies that require less energy to run. It could lead to a more sustainable future.”

Second Place: Plankton Larva

The second-place prize went to another scientist who works with water, but in this case, it’s the marine environments of plankton. Dr. Richard Kirby caught a larva of a planktonic marine horseshoe worm going about its business—both externally and internally. Kirby says that filming the video was no easy feat due to how delicate plankton are. In capturing the image, Kirby employed darkfield microscopy, in which the light used to illuminate the subject is not bounced back into the camera, thus creating a dark background.

Third Place: Onion Cells

The third-place winner was James Tandoc, who captured a phenomenon known as cytoplasmic streaming in onion cells using yet a third technique called Differential Interference Contrast, which introduces contrast to otherwise low-contrast subjects to create something of a 3D effect. Cytoplasmic streaming is the movement of the cytoplasmic fluid inside a cell. Through his work, Tandoc says he hopes to give people a more in-depth insight into the differences between plant and animal cells and how different cell components function. With its slow zoom, the footage almost feels like a space flick.

Educational Films

“This year’s movies, and our winning video, in particular, captures the spirit of Nikon Small World in Motion on the competition’s 10th anniversary,” said Eric Flem, Communications Manager, Nikon Instruments. “The winning video illustrates how highly sophisticated imaging techniques and systems can help us see and better understand common concepts as well as lead to improvements to technologies and products we all use in our everyday lives.”

You can see more of this year’s winners and honorable mentions and previous year’s winners on Nikon’s Small World in Motion website.