You’ll be forgiven for not readily identifying the content of the above picture. It is, in fact, ammonium nitrate, an ingredient in explosives, photographed by Chicago resident Sebastian Sparenga. The photo earned Sparenga, who’s a microscopist and instructor at McCrone Research Institute, an “image of distinction” award in the annual Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition, which honors photographers who shoot really, really tiny things.

The winning entry, after the jump, was taken by Madison resident Igor Siwanowicz. Rather than swatting a bug that landed on his hand, Siwanowicz (who completed doctoral studies in protein crystallography, natch) ushered it into a tiny test tube that was in his pocket. Regarding his photo, Siwanowicz remarked about “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,” which is a line that we’ve been pushing for a while here at the Reader. See for instance our annals of ugly cats.