Tiny Insect Portrait Captures First Place in 2011 Competition

Dr. Igor Siwanowicz’s striking confocal image of a common green lacewing wowed the judges to capture first place in the 2011 Small World Photomicrography Competition.

When a small bug landed on Dr. Igor Siwanowicz’s hand and began “fiercely digging its mandibles” into his skin, he didn’t swat it away. Instead, he removed a tiny test tube from his pocket – which he carries for occasions such as these – and captured it as a potential subject for his photomicrography passion.

Little did he know at the time, but this chance meeting with what is actually the Common Green Lacewing would lead to Dr. Siwanowicz, of Madison, Wisconsin being named the winner of the 2011 Nikon Small World competition. Nikon Small World recognizes excellence in photomicrography, honoring images that successfully showcase the delicate balance between difficult scientific technique and exquisite artistic quality.

“My art causes a dissonance for its viewer - a conflict between the culturally imprinted perception of an insect as something repulsive and ugly with a newly-acquired admiration of the beauty of its form,” said Dr. Siwanowicz, who completed his doctoral studies in protein crystallography but now works in invertebrate photography for research. “My hope is that in some way, my photomicrographs prompt people to realize the presence of cultural programming, question it, and eventually throw it off as an illusion. I am so pleased to be recognized by Nikon Small World for this philosophy, but also the technical expertise it required to capture this photo.”

Dr. Siwanowicz only had one take to capture his specimen because of specific needs for its dissection. Using a confocal microscope, he carefully fixed and dyed the sample to take the image – difficult as the head of the bug measured just 1.3 mm in length.

“Year over year, we receive spectacular images for the Nikon Small World Competition, and it is our privilege to honor the talented researchers and photomicrographers who submit their amazing work,” said Eric Flem, Communications Manager, Nikon Instruments. “As evidenced by Dr. Siwanowicz, the difficulty in marrying technique and aesthetics is no easy feat.  We are proud that this competition is able to showcase this beautiful imagery and demonstrate some of the many facets of science.”