Nikon Small World Takes Over Japan

Dec 20, 2017

The full tour group before exploring Nikon’s glass and objective lens manufacturing facilities.

To commemorate Nikon’s 100th Anniversary, the 2017 winners of Nikon Instruments’ landmark annual Nikon Small World and Nikon Small World in Motion competitions received a trip to Nikon’s headquarters in Japan this October. The experience was complete with an exclusive tour of Nikon’s glass and objective lens manufacturing facilities.

The full tour group before exploring Nikon’s glass and objective lens manufacturing facilities.

Since its founding in July of 1917, Nikon has evolved from an optical glass manufacturer to a world leader in a broad range of imaging technologies. By harnessing the power of optics and new imaging technologies, Nikon has contributed to the advancement of imaging and a broad range of scientific research throughout the past century.

As Nikon celebrates 100 years of commitment to optical excellence, it gives us pride to share some time with a few of those who have helped apply our technologies to scientific research and imaging excellence.

The recipients of the trip to Japan were Daniel von Wangenheim from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria and Dr. Bram van den Broek of The Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI). Daniel took first place Small World in Motion for his time lapse video following the root tip of Arabidopsis thaliana(also known as the Thale cress). Bram was awarded first place in the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition for his photo of a skin cell expressing an excessive amount of keratin.

Upon their return from the trip, we connected with Daniel and Bram to hear more about their experience and to learn about their thoughts on how imaging will progress in the next 100 years.

What was your favorite part of your experience in Japan with Nikon?

Nikon Small World Winner Bram van den Broek and his wife, Ruth, sightseeing in Japan.

DANIEL: One of the most impressive experiences was to see the 1m-diameter, 2m-high cylinder of purest glass synthesized in a flame and then the cutting, grinding, polishing, including the hand-polishing, of the 2mm front lens of the 100x/1.49 objective. That was really impressive.

BRAM: I liked the Japanese culture very much. It is so different from what we are used to. I particularly enjoyed having several Japanese guides accompanying us that could tell everything about their country.

It felt like a group of friends going on a trip.

The most impressive part for me was the glass manufacturing plant, where they fabricate giant glass cylinders/cones. Very cool (or actually hot!) to see them grow in the ovens!

What did you learn about microscopes that you didn’t know before?

DANIEL: I knew that the objectives include many lenses, but it was a miracle for me to see how the individual lenses are made and put together to a working lens that has the required properties. Now I know how Nikon does it, and the mystification has turned into the greatest respect.

BRAM: Although I am pretty experienced with microscopes, I have definitely learned a few things, like:

  • all the different types of glass that are used
  • how lenses are grinded, polished and aligned
  • the sheer amount of very precise manual labor that goes in the fabrication of a microscope objective

How did the trip change your impression of the microscope or of Nikon?

DANIEL: With a microscope objective in the hand, I always thought, don’t drop it – it’s expensive. Now I think, don’t drop it – it’s a precious masterpiece.

BRAM: Nikon, I have learned, is a very large company that really strives for perfection in every aspect. I guess part of Japanese culture is reflected in this goal. I knew that their microscope objectives are top notch. Now I also know why. I also didn’t know that Nikon is the leading producer of semiconductor glass panels.

As you know, this year was Nikon’s 100th anniversary. What do you think is a possibility for microscopes in the next 100 years that isn’t already being done?

Nikon Small World in Motion Winner Daniel von Wangenheim and his wife, Verena, at the Golden Pagoda.

DANIEL: I think Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscopy has a great potential to become a technology that pushes both our cutting-edge technologies and our understanding of biology.

BRAM: Ha, that’s a tough one! One hundred years is a very long time to look ahead. Microscopy development is already moving very fast and shifting the focus from hardware to software. Light sheet microscopy is taking a flight and generating even more data that needs to be handled and analyzed. So here too, IT hardware and software is important. Furthermore, electron microscopy is making a huge comeback, and combining it with (super resolution) light microscopy will be the standard.

I think in the future there may also be more ‘citizen science’, where the general public uses smartphone microscopes to generate data that is analyzed by central servers.

In the long run, artificial intelligence will be employed to aid scientists in performing and analyzing their microscopy experiments.

What advice do you have for other scientists and hobbyists who are submitting to the Nikon Small World 2018 competition?

BRAM: Many scientists are not focused on making beautiful images. In order to make the best image possible, pay attention to aesthetics, use a very high resolution, mitigate noise, deconvolve if possible, and tweak the appearance with colorful lookup tables. And if you don’t win or even don’t submit, the effort is never wasted, because everyone appreciates a beautiful image.

DANIEL: Good luck!

Submissions for the 2018 Nikon Small World and Small World in Motion competitions are due by April 30, 2018. You can enter here or through