In a sure sign that a scientist will try anything once, Professor Martyn Poliakoff has had the periodic table engraved on one of the hairs from his head. Poliakoff, a well-known chemist and researcher in clean technologies at the University of Nottingham, was given the microscopic periodic chart as a birthday present. Even for a British scientist, that’s a rare gift. Created at the University of Nottingham’s Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre (NNNC), the tiny table is only about 88 microns wide and 46 microns tall – you could fit tens of thousands on a single strand of your hair! Each symbol on the chart is only four microns across! Watch Poliakoff’s birthday gift being created in the video below. This periodic table isn’t the most practical I’ve ever seen, but it is a remarkable display of what nanotechnology can do.
As you’ll see in the video below, Poliakoff’s friends at the NNNC used a beam of gallium ions to ablate the surface of the hair and carve out the symbols of the periodic table. Normally such techniques help scientists scan very small objects, or repair damage to microscopic structures in semi-conductors. Gallium ion beams are also sometimes used to carve out tiny samples to be viewed by more sensitive instruments necessary for research in nanotechnology. As tiny as this periodic table may be, it doesn’t even approach the smallest structures we’ll be able to create in the near future.
In fact, we’ve already constructed smaller novelty objects. While this is the first microscopic periodic table I’ve seen created, scientists have been engraving pictures on human hairs for years. We’ve also seen tinier sculptures of a more impressive caliber: like the 10 micron snowman, or the 20 micron 3D map of the world. That being said, Poliakoff’s periodic table on a hair is still pretty badass, and is definitely one of the smallest reference materials in the world. You could smuggle millions of these things into your next chemistry quiz. Of course, you would probably also need to sneak in an electron microscope so you could read it.
*On a side note, I’m sure many of you are asking, “Who is this crazy professor, and why is he so happy to receive a microscopic periodic table for his birthday?” (As if you weren’t dying to get your own.) Poliakoff hosts one of the best science channels on the internet: Periodic Videos. He and his friends have created a video discussing and demonstrating each and every one of the universe’s 118 elements. Recently they’ve gone back and started improving their videos as well. Periodic Videos doesn’t quite have the practical applications of the Khan Academy or other online teaching reference, but there’s no doubt that it’s a cool exploration of chemistry. Check out their channel on YouTube.
[screen capture and video credits: Periodic Videos]
[source: University of Nottingham Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Center, Periodic Videos]