A strange and unseen world exists at our fingertips, and only microscopes have the power to bring this hidden dimension into view.

To honour the beauty and scientific importance of microscopic photographs - also called micrographs - the Nikon Small World image contest hands out awards and prizes to researchers and hobbyists who capture the most impressive images.

A handful of independent judges picks the contest's 20 best micrographs, and this year I joined the 43rd judging panel.

We reviewed more than 2,000 pictures from all over the world, and selected the best pictures based on technique, subject matter, and inherent beauty. (We also watched hundreds of stunning videos for the 2017 Nikon Small World in Motion competition.)

The image shown above is a tapeworm's head with all of its spiky mouthparts in stunning detail. To see more of the stunning images the judges saw, keep scrolling.

This image won first place. It shows keratin structures in 'immortalised' human skin cells, which are increasingly important tools for medical researchers:

2 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Bram van den Broek, Andriy Volkov, Dr. Kees Jalink, Dr. Nicole Schwarz, and Dr. Reinhard Windoffer/Nikon Small World

This image came in second. It shows the seed-filled head of a groundsel flower:

3 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Havi Sarfaty/Nikon Small World

This Pac-Man-like photo is the third-place winner. It shows a colony of volvox algae bursting open:

4 1 nikon small world 2017 finalistJean-Marc Babalian/Nikon Small World

Here's the full shot of that tapeworm head:

4 nikon small world 2017 finalistTeresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

Fungus grows on a tomato in this image:

5 nikon small world 2017 finalistDean Lerman/Nikon Small World

These are spores of lily pollen:

6 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. David A. Johnston/Nikon Small World

This part of an embryonic chick brain is coloured with the 'brainbow' genetic technique:

7 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Ryo Egawa/Nikon Small World

Sensory hair cells (red) and neurons (green) reveal the structure of a rat cochlea (part of the inner ear):

8 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Michael Perny/Nikon Small World

This cartilage-like tissue was composed and coloured to look like a Christmas tree:

9 nikon small world 2017 finalistCatarina Moura, Dr. Sumeet Mahajan, Dr. Richard Oreffo, and Dr. Rahul Tare/Nikon Small World

Two weevils work at passing on their genetic inheritance:

10 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Csaba Pinter/Nikon Small World

A close-up of a credit card's holographic logo:

11 nikon small world 2017 finalistSteven Simon/Nikon Small World

When you look at a daddy long-legs, these are the eyes looking back at you:

12 nikon small world 2017 finalistCharles Krebs/Nikon Small World

An orchid cuckoo bee shines like metal:

13 nikon small world 2017 finalistLevon Biss/Nikon Small World

Two Maestra butterfly eggs are nestled together on a leaf:

14 nikon small world 2017 finalistDavid Millard/Nikon Small World

A bat foetus with see-through skin and bones:

15 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Rick Adams/Nikon Small World

A great tit bird's down feathers shine like a rainbow under a microscope:

16 nikon small world 2017 finalistMarek Mis/Nikon Small World

This dyed human hair is tied into a knot:

17 nikon small world 2017 finalistHarald K. Andersen/Nikon Small World

Anchor-like structures line the skin of sea cucumbers:

18 nikon small world 2017 finalistChristian Gautier/Nikon Small World

An impressive profile of a mouse embryo wall:

19 nikon small world 2017 finalistDr. Dylan Burnette/Nikon Small World

A colony of fungus in soil looks like a setting sun:

20 nikon small world 2017 finalistTracy Scott/Nikon Small World

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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