Masters of Microscopy

Teri Zgoda and Teresa Kugler: A Love of Art, Science and Microscopy

Welcome to Masters of Microscopy: The People Behind the Lens, where we showcase and celebrate the individuals who are the heart of the Nikon Small World competitions. They are scientists, artists, researchers, educators and everyday curious individuals who uncover the fascinating microscopic world around us.

A love of photography and a deep-seated curiosity about the natural world would lead both Teri Zgoda and Teresa Kugler to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology, where they took up a field of study called biomedical photographic communications. During their time in school, Teri and Teresa learned the various techniques required to take scientific photos – both macro and under the microscope.

“I remember when I was starting to look into where to attend college, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” recalls Zgoda. “Then one day we got a flyer in the mail for this major at RIT and I thought wow, this is perfect for me. I would be able to take scientific classes yet still express my artistic side.”

Teri Zgoda (pictured left) and Teresa Kugler (pictured right)

On choosing this field of study, Kugler added, “Studying photomicrography allowed for the combination of my two favorite things, photographs and working towards a purpose in science. Just after only taking a few pictures of makeup and various plant cross-sections, I feel in love with taking pictures of the small things in life.”

While they both attended RIT, it would not be until later that their professional paths would cross. The two were microscopy interns at the Marine Biological Laboratory, where they assisted the students taking the course in photographing the curiosities they were observing under the microscope. It was here, during their time together, that the pair created the image that would go on to place first in the 2019 Small World competition.

The two teamed up to create a colorful image of a turtle embryo, captured using fluorescence and stereomicroscopy. The striking final image is a masterful example of image-stitching. Image-stitching is an imaging technique that required the 2019 winning pair to stack and stitch together hundreds of images to create the final image of their turtle.

Zgoda and Kugler’s winning image of a turtle embryo

Adding to the challenge of creating this image was the size and thickness of the turtle embryo. Creating the final image required precision, patience, and deep imaging expertise, as the organism’s size meant only very small parts of the turtle could be imaged on the focal plane at a time.

“People don’t normally see a turtle’s embryo like that, and it’s particular hard to capture the full organism in one photo. It took a lot of patience to create,” Zgoda explained.

“It’s a very striking image. It was an incredibly unique subject to photograph, and we're glad we got the chance to do so,” added Kugler. Zgoda is an eight-time Nikon Small World winner (she has also placed once in the Small World in Motion competition), and the win marks Kugler’s first.

Zgoda is an avid hiker. She is pictured here at the “Garden of the Gods” canyon.

Both early on in their careers, the two offered some advice for other aspiring photomicrographers.

“Take it slow,” explained Kugler. “It’s not just one image. It’s 100 images put together. You must have patience and try to ensure that each photo is in focus. This will help to uncover more striking visuals and reveal far more scientific nuance and intricacy. Plus, you can look to others in the field to help and competitions, like Nikon Small World, to find inspiration. I’m always inspired and humbled by the depth of creativity and uniqueness on display from others in the field.”

Zgoda echoed the same sentiment and added. “Definitely take your time but also be mindful of the resources you have at your disposal. You can look online and find out the best ways to take images. You can try out different techniques. If you’re able to find mentors to show you the ropes, that’s always helpful. Gaining knowledge from others who have experience in this field will give you a solid foundation and understanding.”

Zgoda says that Nikon Small World offers an opportunity to see the work of so many talented individuals who combine the rigor of scientific application with the art of photography. “I love how there is a whole other world we can't see with our own eyes,” she said.

In her spare time, Kugler enjoys sketching and painting. One of her drawings is pictured above.

For both Kugler and Zgoda, their passion for science and nature is rivaled only by their love for all things creative. In her spare time, Kugler enjoys all forms of photography, composing music, playing the flute and violin, cosplaying, and drawing. As a new graduate of RIT, she’s excited to see where her career journey will take her. Zgoda also dabbles in photography, but is also a writer, avid hiker, and microscopy assistant at a Boston Hospital.

Kugler and Zgoda are honored to be winners of this year’s Nikon Small World competition. “Nikon is a leading brand in the photography world, and the Small World competition brings to light a lesser known side of photography: photomicrography. The competition does wonders in curating a gallery of beautiful but also scientifically useful imagery.” Zgoda said.

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