The Lennart Nilsson Award
The Lennart Nilsson Award Foundation was established in 1998 in recognition of the world-renowned Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson and his extraordinary body of work. It's main aim is to promote education, training and research within the medical, biological and engineering sciences through the use of images.
This is achieved through the Lennart Nilsson Award, an international award bestowed annually upon an individual in recognition of outstanding contributions within the realm of scientific photography. Award recipients are people who work in the spirit of Lennart Nilsson, revealing science to the world in beautiful, unique and powerful ways.
About Lennart Nilsson
Born in Strängnäs, Sweden, on August 24, 1922, Lennart Nilsson began his career as a freelance photojournalist. His work spans more than seven decades, beginning in the early 1940s when modern photojournalism made its breakthrough in Sweden.
His early photographic essays, including A Midwife in Lapland (1945), Polar Bear Hunting in Spitzbergen (1947), Congo (1948) and Sweden in Profile (1954) gained international attention through publication in leading photojournalism magazines such as Life, Picture Post and Illustrated.
In the 1950s, Nilsson began experimenting with new photographic techniques including macro- and microphotography, which led to the books, Ants (Myror) and Life in the Sea (Liv i hav).
In the 1960s, the use of specially designed, ultra-slim endoscopes made it possible for Nilsson to capture on film the inner workings of blood vessels and various cavities of the human body. The book A Child is Born (Ett barn blir till) first published in 1965 is undoubtedly Nilsson’s most famous work.
In the 1970s, Nilsson began to use the scanning electron microscope to capture images of the inner workings of the human body. This shift in the focus of his work gave Nilsson the opportunity to work on the premises of Karolinska Institute.
What remains remarkable is the combination of his unending patience to fully explore his subjects, combined with a journalist’s eye, artist’s sense of form and colour, and technician’s inventive skills to maximize available light and capture spectacular images.
In 1976 Lennart Nilsson was awarded an honorary doctorate at Karolinska Institutet. In 2009 he was given the title Professor’s name by the Swedish Government and in 2012 he was awarded the Karolinska Institutet Jubilee Medal (Gold class) for his long-standing and groundbreaking contributions to the development and innovative advancement of medical photography.
Lennart Nilsson passed away in January 2017.
Prize winner 2019 - Ed Boyden
Ed Boyden, Y Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology at the MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute, and leader of the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, led the team that developed a new microscopy technique called expansion microscopy. With this technique his group, including then-graduate students Fei Chen and Paul Tillberg, made it possible to record images of biological preparations that were previously very difficult to study.
The technique is based on physical expansion of the biological specimen, which also makes it transparent. By expansion, magnification is obtained even before the microscope is used.
Ed Boyden has with expansion microscopy, much like Lennart Nilsson, made the invisible visible and, with an artistic view, highlighted the beauty in microscopy preparations, in particular images of the brain's three-dimensional structure. His microscope images have, through their detail and beauty, provided a deeper understanding of the complexity of the brain for both laymen and experts.
Ed Boyden is awarded the prize for his development of expansion microscopy; a microscopy technique that makes the invisible visible and brings out the hidden details in microscopy preparations, beautifully demonstrated by studies of three-dimensional structures in the brain.
Previous prize winners
Prize winner 2018 - Thomas Deerinck
Bio-artist and scientist Thomas Deerinck wins the 2018 Lennart Nilsson-award. He gets the prize for developing novel microscopy techniques and methods to improve the ability to obtain information from biological specimens.
Thomas Deerinck is a research scientist, technical specialist and bio-artist at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Reseach (NCMIR) and the Center for Research on Biological Systems at the University of California, San Diego.
Over the past four decades he has developed novel techniques and methods to improve our ability to obtain information from biological specimens using many types of microscopes. He has made many important contributions to the field of bioimaging, including key work on developing chemical, molecular and genetic tagging methods for studying cells and tissues by both light and electron microscopy.
Thomas Deerincks latest work is focused on improving serial block-face scanning electron microscopy; a method that is revolutionizing automated 3D imaging of cells and tissues at nanometer-scale resolution. He not only developed the now gold-standard protocol for preparing samples for this imaging technique, but also just recently co-developed a method to greatly extend the resolution and usefulness of this approach in the field of biomedical research.
Tom is married to the artist Karla Renshaw, who taught him to bring an artistic eye common to nature photography to scientific imaging with microscopes. The resulting images of even common everyday objects are turned from the invisible into beautiful works of art, and have appeared not only on the cover of numerous top tier scientific journals, but also in many non-scientific magazines, periodicals, documentaries as well as public art exhibitions.
Tom Deerinck is a microscopist from San Diego who works tirelessly in Lennart Nilsson's spirit with development of techniques and methods that make the invisible visible. He has given a long series of important contributions to the development of new methods in both light and electron microscopy. His images have often been decisive steps in pioneering research projects, and at the same time he has captured the beauty of the scientific content and turned it into works of art.
Prize winner 2017 - Xiaowei Zhuang
Xiaowei Zhuang is the David B. Arnold Professor of Science at Harvard University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. In 2006, she pioneered a method that would go on to revolutionize the world of fluorescence microscopy.
She developed a single-molecule-based super-resolution light microscopy method called “Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy” or STORM. It overcame the diffraction limit and extended the spatial resolution of light microscopy by an order of magnitude to a few tens of nanometers.
Prize winner 2016 - Alexey Amunts
Alexey Amunts, head of the Swedish cryo-EM laboratory at SciLifeLab and researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Stockholm University, is the recipient of the 2016 Lennart Nilsson Award for his pioneering work in the ongoing “Resolution Revolution”, using cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) to visualize structures of individual proteins.
Cryo-EM led Alexey Amunts and his team to the first visualizations of a protein complex that regulates a cell’s energy budget, the mitoribosome, with extremely high resolution – at the atomic scale.
The method uses a highly focused electron beam to shoot electrons at biological samples, for example mitoribosomes, frozen in liquid nitrogen, at about –200°C. Hundreds of thousands of pictures of a single mitoribosome are combined with the help of computational analysis, and the final result is an extremely detailed three-dimensional model of the original biological structure.
2015 - Katrin Willig
Dr. Katrin Willig, junior research group leader at the Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain (CNMPB) with affiliation at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen, Germany, is the recipient of the Lennart Nilsson Award 2015 for her groundbreaking contribution to the super-resolution microscopy of living cells.
2014 - Timothy Behrens
Timothy Behrens, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at the University of Oxford is awarded the 2014 Lennart Nilsson Prize for crucial efforts for the advancement of diffusion MRI, a technique for creating high resolution images of the architecture of the human brain.
2012 - Hans Blom
The 2012 Lennart Nilsson Award - this year a stipend - is awarded to Hans Blom, associate professor of biological physics at the Royal Institute of Technology, KTH and facility manager at the Science for Life Laboratory, Stockholm, to undertake a field trip to Harvard University to study and evaluate the microscopy techniques nanoSIMS and STORM.
2011- Nancy Kedersha
The 2011 Lennart Nilsson Award is awarded to American biologist Nancy Kedersha for her colour pictures showing the inner life of a cell.
2010 - Kenneth Libbrecht
The 2010 Lennart Nilsson Award is awarded to the American physicist Kenneth Libbrecht for his images of snowflakes - images that open our eyes to the beauty of nature.
2009 - Carolyn Porco and Babak A. Tafreshi
The 2009 Lennart Nilsson Award is awarded to American planetary scientist Carolyn Porco and Iranian photographer and science journalist Babak A. Tafreshi for their photographic work, which - each from its own perspective - recalls mankind's place in the universe.
2008 - Anders Persson
The 2008 Lennart Nilsson Award is awarded to Swedish physician Anders Persson, MD, PhD, for his innovative techniques for capturing 3-D images inside the human body. These new techniques have proven particularly useful for post-mortem imaging, providing invaluable information for forensic investigation.
2007 - Felice Frankel
Research scientist Felice Frankel was the recipient of the 2007 Lennart Nilsson Award. In selecting Felice Frankel, the board of the Lennart Nilsson Foundation stated: "Those viewing Ms. Frankel's images are initially captivated by their form and colour. No sooner is their curiosity aroused than they want to know what the photograph depicts. She has thus fulfilled a scientific reporter's paramount task: to awaken people's interest and desire to learn."