It's the little things that make Christmas special, and with this in mind, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK's National Measurement Institute, has created the world's smallest Christmas card...
Measuring in at 15x20 micrometres in size (a micrometre is one thousandth of a millimetre), you could fit over 200 million cards in a single postage stamp. The card requires a powerful microscope just to see it, let alone read the festive message inside. To make the card 10cm in height, you would have to magnify it 5000 times; equivalent to blowing up a postage stamp to the size of a football field. The previous smallest card, created in 2009, was 200x290 micrometres so this latest creation is over 10 times smaller.
The card is made from platinum-coated silicon nitride, usually used in electronics, and both the design on the front and the message inside were carved out by a focused ion beam - a jet of charged particles. The tools used to make the card are being used to develop cutting-edge techniques for understanding materials on a tiny scale, helping to further the miniaturisation of electronics, and the development of new battery materials.
NPL has world-leading materials characterisation capabilities, spanning everything from micrometre-scale analysis, all the way up to the monitoring of large-scale infrastructure from space. NPL helps industry to better understand the most exciting materials, from graphene to high-performance composites, and apply them to new applications.
Dr David Cox, Research Fellow at NPL, who created the card with his colleague Dr Ken Mingard, said: "While the card is a fun way to mark the festive season, it also showcases the progress being made in materials research on this scale. We are using the tools that created the card to accurately measure the thickness of extremely small features in materials, helping to unlock new battery and semiconductor technologies. It's a genuinely exciting development that could help to make new technologies and techniques a reality."
Image & info NPL