Snowman Gets Small, Real Small – Three Microns Tall

There are great advancements occurring in nanotechnology daily. Just in time for the holidays, researchers have constructed a three-micron tall snowman. I agree with the author over at The Verge. It is difficult to grasp how small that actually is. I thought I would get my math on and try and illustrate it as best I can.

To start, check out the snowman, tweeted by Corey S. Powell, science and technology editor at Aeon.

Pretty slick, complete with arms, eyes and a nose even. If you wish to see a larger image, check out his Tumblr. But how small is it actually?

To start, what is a micron? A micron is actually a common name for a micrometer the American spelling, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures official international spelling is micrometre. I am aware that the majority of Americans are metrically impaired but bear with me for a moment. I am going to try and break it down to compare it to some items to help you get it. A micrometer is 1×10-6 of a meter, one millionth of a meter. It is abbreviated as μm.

For the sake of math here, we are going to assume that the snowman is exactly 3 microns tall, it is actually a tad shy of that mark. Let us try thinking of 45 microns about the width of a fine human hair. That is, depending on the source you check, about the limit of human eyesight. We would stack 15 of these snowmen on top of each other to be 45 microns tall. However, we still wouldn’t see it.

Looking at the figure above, it seems that the snowman is roughly 3 times taller that it is wide. Let us assume it is 1 micron wide. In order to see it, it would have to be 45 microns wide as well, so we would need 45 towers of 15 snowmen each side by side to see them. That would be 675 snowmen!

To humanize this a bit more, assume the average man is 5 feet tall and, at the shoulders, 18 inches wide, how much area would 675 average men consume? If we placed the head to feet, side by side, just like our snowmen above? This human rectangle would be 75 feet tall and 67.5 feet wide. That would calculate out to 5062.5 square feet. NBA and NCAA courts are 94×50 or 4,700 square feet.

Hopefully that helps you get just how small these snowmen are. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.