A remarkable picture of a single glowing atom just won a photography prize -- here are the most eye-catching images from the competition

Sam Catchpole Smith/University of Nottingham/EPSRCThe third-place winner in the ‘Innovation’ category depicts exceptionally strong aluminium structures created with a technique called selective laser melting.

At the most basic level, everything is made of tiny atoms.

As a way to recognise that fundamental fact, it seems appropriate that a stunning image depicting one single positively-charged strontium atom just won a prestigious photography award.

The image, which shows the atom trapped by electric fields, was the overall winner of this year’s science photography competition put on by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the UK.

The photo, taken by David Nadlinger from the University of Oxford, actually shows the light particles re-emitted by the trapped atom, as you can see in the photo below. (That light is hundreds of times larger than the atom itself and can be captured in a visible shot using a digital camera, though you can’t see anything the size of an atom without a powerful microscope.)

It’s not the only stunning shot from the competition, which also includes photos of the fascinating fluid patterns on a bubble of soap, the structures that cover a butterfly’s wing, and a robot learning to take a selfie.

Here’s a selection of the winning images.


The single atom in the winning photo is being held by equipment used to explore quantum physics.

David Nadlinger/University of Oxford/EPSRCOverall Winner and 1st in Equipment and Facilities: ‘Single Atom in Ion’

This engineered, biologically accurate model of tissue could help replace animal models that are used to study neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Andrew Capel/Loughborough University/EPSRC3rd in Eureka and Discovery: ‘An in vitro 3D tissue engineered model’

Biodegradable microparticles like this one could help drugs penetrate further into cancerous tumours.

Tayo Sanders II/University of Oxford/EPSRC2nd in Eureka and Discovery: ‘Biodegradable microbowls could help fight stubborn cancers’

These exceptionally strong aluminium structures were created with a technique called selective laser melting.

Sam Catchpole Smith/University of Nottingham/EPSRC3rd in Innovation category: ‘Building blocks for a lighter future’

Researchers are screening how cells attach to surfaces here to find a way to better grow stem cells.

Dr. Mahetab Amer/University of Nottingham/EPSRC2nd in Innovation: ‘High throughput screening in search for serendipity’

Fluid instability on top of a bubble of soap shows the road toward the bubble’s eventual rupture.

Li Shen/Imperial College London/EPSRC1st in Eureka and Discovery: ‘In a kitchen far far away’

Soil could replace concrete, thanks to techniques that turn dirt into forms of clay that can resist water and maintain structure.

Alastair March/University of Bath/EPSRC3rd in Weird and Wonderful: ‘Just mud, or the future sustainable concrete ‘

The larger fruits held by this farmer were irrigated by a smart, automated system designed to meet the okra’s specific needs.

Lucy Bryden/Heriot Watt University/EPSRC2nd in People and Skills: ‘Lady Finger Crop’

This microbubble can carry a drug to a carefully selected target site.

Estelle Beguin/University of Oxford/EPSRC1st in Innovation: ‘Microbubble for drug delivery’

This machine creates crystal wafers used in electronics for the fabrication of circuits, which were traditionally made of silicon.

Claudia Gonzalez Burguete/University College London/EPSRC3rd in Equipment and Facilities: ‘Molecular Beam Epitaxy Machine’

The surface of a butterfly wing helps trap light from the sun, giving it the brilliant colours the creature is known for.

Bernice Akpinar/Imperial College London/EPSRC1st in Weird and Wonderful: ‘Natures Nanosized Net for Capturing Colour’

Each placenta is different yet able to help support a growing life — these photos came from research into the tree structures inside each one.

Dr. Rosalind Aughwane/University College London/EPSRC2nd in Weird and Wonderful: Placental Pop Art

This newly designed robot has special tactile skills that let it hold up a selfie stick to snap a self-portrait.

Luke Cramphorn/University of Bristol/EPSRC3rd in People and Skills: Robo Selfie (1 of 2)

Look at it go!

Luke Cramphorn/University of Bristol/EPSRC3rd in People and Skills: Robo Selfie (2 of 2)

Scientists are testing this underwater drone, which is designed to identify fuel debris near Fukushima.

Dr. Simon Watson/University of Manchester/EPSRC2nd in Equipment and Facilities: ‘Searching for Simulated Fukushima Fuel Debris Using and AVEXIS TM ROV’

This volunteer is having his brain activity recorded using an EEG headset as he walks to see how it changes in different areas of the city.

Richard Coyne/University of Edinburgh/EPSRC1st in People and Skills: ‘Spiderman on George IV Bridge’

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