Graduate Student Creates a Nanowire Just Three Atoms Wide Using an Electron Beam


What’s the diameter of an atom, precisely? How do you describe something you can’t see with a light microscope? Is the term “diameter” even the right one to describe an atom’s size? Don’t atoms change over time?

They do, sometimes varying significantly, and so there’s no standard number that describes the atomic distances, strictly speaking, of one of matter’s building blocks. We settle instead for measuring the distance between two adjacent atomic nuclei, dividing that number by two, and calling it close enough: the approximation typically comes in around 1 x 10-10 meters, which is an incredibly small figure.

Put in broader context and borrowing an analogy from this worth-watching TED talk on the subject, if you took a nitrogen atom in a grapefruit and blew it up to the size of a blueberry, to render the grapefruit proportionately, you’d have to blow the grapefruit up to the size…

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