Just in time for the Christmas season, a scientist from Canada has created what he claims to be the world’s smallest snowman. However, unlike the conventional snowman that people make during the cold winter season, the figure is made of silica, a mix of silicon and oxygen that can be found in things such as quartz and sand.
Microscopic Figure. Todd Simpson said that the microscopic figure was made using three tiny silica spheres that he stacked on top of each other. For the arms and nose, the researcher, who works at Western University’s Nanofabrication Facility, used platinum.
Smaller Than Human Hair. The figure measures less than 3 microns tall. In comparison, a human hair is about 50 microns in diameter, which means the triple stack of spheres is thinner than a strand of human hair. The figure can also be seen only with an electron microscope.
Creating The World’s Smallest Snowman. The history of the minuscule figure can be traced back as early as December 2005. Simpson was working on a process to fabricate silica spheres and was able to find instances of three of these getting stacked together, which created a figure that resembles a snowman.
“I came across this little stack of three that looked like a little snowman, so I put a face and arms on him with the annotation feature – I just drew them on,” Simpson said. “We actually used it as a Christmas card.”
Back then, Simpson used the annotation feature of a microscope software program to draw the face and arms of the figure but this year, he took things further by using a focused ion beam to give the miniature figure eyes and a mouth. The nose and arms are made of platinum.
He said that carving out a face for the figure and giving it actual arms and nose required sophisticated instruments and a lot of experience but for somebody who has been working on such objects, Simpson found the process easy. It only took him about 10 seconds to create each arm and not longer than three seconds to carve the nose.
Simpson said that he was amazed at the buzz that the tiny figure has generated, which he said he created to promote the kind of work that they do. The figure has been placed in a carrier box and stored to make it easier for Simpson, or anyone in the lab, to find it.