For a long time, the pursuit of bigness consumed a lot of the world. It still does in many ways. Just look at the massive Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, towering 2717 feet in the air. The world likes big. But the opposite end of the scale holds fascination as well. The smaller we can make something, the more fascinating it becomes. And if the tiny thing still works, at least in theory, that’s even more interesting. Plus, the ramifications for everything from healthcare to electronics and computing can’t really be understated. The smaller we can make things like power sources and data storage units, the more efficient, more powerful and faster computers of the future will be. Let’s take a look at ten of the smallest and most fascinating things ever created.
10 The Smallest Planes in the World
The Stratolaunch is the largest airplane ever made. Designed to launch rockets, it had a 385-foot wingspan. That’s pretty significant and shows we can keep making planes bigger if we know what we’re doing from an engineering standpoint. So how small does a plane get?
Back in 1952, Ray Stits created what was, for many years, the smallest functional airplane ever made. Known as the Sky Baby, it had a 7-foot-2 wingspan and was 9-feet, 10-inches long. It held the record for the smallest plane until 1984 when Ray’s son Don usurped his father’s title with the Baby Bird. This had a 6-foot-3 wingspan and weighed more than 200 pounds less than his father’s plane. It still holds the world record for the smallest monoplane.
Not to be outdone, Robert Starr helped the senior Stits build the Sky Baby but felt he hadn’t been given enough credit, so he built his own plane called the Bumblebee. It was finished in 1984, just in time for the Baby Bird to break the world record. Starr went back to the drawing board and made the Bumblebee II.
Because the Bumblebee is a biplane, it holds a separate and distinct record for being the smallest. Its wingspan was just 5-foot-6, and Starr test piloted it himself.
9. The World’s Smallest Gun
Though it’s not always the case, you can make a general assumption that the larger a gun is, the more powerful it is. There’s obviously wiggle room in there in terms of ammunition, barrel size, and so on. But a snub nosed revolver is not going to pack the same punch as a high caliber hunting rifle. A smaller gun is going to be smaller caliber, use smaller bullets and arguably cause less damage. And at some point, a gun can get so small that it becomes questionable how it could do anything at all. That’s the case with the SwissMiniGun C1ST.
At just two inches long and weighing under one ounce, the gun is fully capable of firing 2.34 mm caliber rounds. The barrel is under an inch long and the gun is actually banned in the US because it’s obviously so easy to conceal.
The company makes about 100 per year especially to order as they need to be handmade to exacting standards if they are to both function and do so safely. They cost over $6,000, if you’re interested (though you can pay more to get one in 18-karat gold).
A 9mm bullet will travel at a speed of around 370 meters per second.That’s over 1,200 feet per second. The SwissMiniGun fires a round at around 400 feet per second, so the overall power is much less impressive for obvious reasons. It has less than a foot pound of penetrating force and it’s unlikely, though not impossible, it could even pierce your eye.
8. The World’s Smallest Hard Drives
Computing is one of these fields we’re always looking to downsize. More memory, faster speeds, smaller space. That’s what everyone wants. In order to pull that off effectively, we need smaller and smaller hard drives. So far, the smallest we’ve managed to produce is the stamp-sized 2 and 4 GB hard drives from Toshiba that come in at just 0.85 inches.
It’s worth noting that this hard drive is the smallest practical hard drive out there that is usable and installed inside real hardware. But there was a smaller hard drive in the technical sense made by IBM back in 2017. A single bit of data was stored on a magnetic surface that was only 1 atom big. Strictly speaking, that made it the smallest hard drive that will probably ever be created.
7. Mantis-Sized 3D Glasses
Do you know how it is we see the world in three dimensions? The exact mechanism is not something easy to explain and is even harder to reproduce. How do you make a robot see in three dimensions, for instance? Or create artificial eyes for humans that can master depth perception?
Scientists studying how three-dimensional vision works studied it in praying mantises. To do that, they had to make tiny, mantis-sized 3D glasses.Why mantises? They’re the only invertebrates known to see things in 3D. The way they do it is different from the way it works for us. Mantises only focus on motion, so what they see doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that they can see it moving. This has the potential to aid in creating 3D vision in robotics and artificial intelligence.
6. The Nano Bible
There are several hundred versions of the Bible in the world right now, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re typically large enough to read with your naked eye. This is not the case with the Nano Bible. There are 1.2 million words in the Bible and scientists managed to get them all in a Bible that is 0.04 square millimeters.
Though it looks like a speck of dust and easily fits on the of a pen, it’s actually a gold-coated silicon chip. Each word was written with a focused ion beam generator that bombarded the golden surface with gallium ions to create the most delicate and tiny calligraphy you’ll ever see. The layer of silicon it is printed on is less than 100 atoms thick. In order to read it, the text would need to be magnified 10,000 times.
5. The World’s Smallest Battery
There aren’t a lot of things that require D batteries these days, but if you remember using them or still have the odd item that takes them, you know how big and clunky they were. Scaling batteries down has made devices much smaller, lighter and more portable. But the process is ongoing and batteries have plenty of room to shrink down even further. For instance, scientists have managed to create a functional battery the size of a grain of sand.
These ultra tiny batteries could power equally tiny computers. They’d be ideal in wearable technologies and especially implantable medical devices that need to be designed as small as possible.
Produced by way of something called the Swiss-Roll process that rolls of thin film layers, they are chargeable and could power dust mote sized computers for upwards of 10 hours.
4. A 20-Micrometer House
Researchers at the Femto-ST Institute in France have taken small to new heights of construction with what qualifies as the smallest house ever created. Despite having a tiled roof, a chimney and seven windows, the house is also a mere 20 microns long. For some perspective, a human hair is generally around 70 microns wide.
The small house was built inside a vacuum chamber and required nanorobots to assemble it out of silica membranes in a style similar to making origami. The house doesn’t necessarily serve any purpose. There aren’t a lot of things small enough to fit inside, after all. But it was a solid demonstration of the techniques that can be employed to make the tiniest of structures.
3. The World’s Smallest Guitar
The smaller a musical instrument gets, the higher pitched the sound tends to be. A piccolo tends to hit some higher notes than a flute. A ukelele just doesn’t rock out quite the same as a guitar. And with that in mind, you can imagine what the world’s smallest guitar would sound like if someone were ever capable of playing it.
Made from crystalline silicon, the world’s smallest guitar is just 10 microns long. That’s about one-seventh of a human hair’s width, or equivalent to a red blood cell. It comes with six strings, each just 50 nanometers, or about 100 atoms long.
Researchers at Cornell University made the nano guitar to demonstrate the technology which could have far-reaching capabilities in things like electronics and fiber optics. The most remarkable part is that it can actually be played. You need to use an atomic force microscope to do it, of course, and the sound produced by the strings would be impossible to hear, but it can still happen.
2. The World’s Smallest Antenna
If you want to send or receive radio signals, you’re going to need an antenna. Once upon a time, everyone watching TV had an antenna on the roof of their house, a sight that would likely baffle anyone in Gen Z. But over the years antennae, like any other technology, grew smaller if they weren’t replaced altogether. The nanoantenna represents the smallest of the small. It’s made from DNA and is 20,000 times smaller than a human hair.
Researchers created the five nanometer antenna to monitor proteins rather than radio or TV signals. Its fluorescent structure means it can send and receive light signals, which is how the scientists who created it are using it. When the proteins it is monitoring move or change, it will reflect light back in a different color, signaling researchers that something has occurred.
As science fiction-y as it sounds, those conducting the study insist part of the reason they used DNA was because it’s so simple to use and program. They’re hoping that in the future, the technology employed in developing the antenna could assist with everything from developing new medications to nanomachines.
1. The World’s Smallest Movie
Usually we think of movies in terms of length. A 90 minute movie, a three hour movie, etc. When a movie gets big, that usually means it’s an IMAX release and it’s been formatted for a big screen. And on TV, movies sometimes are prefaced with a message that they have been scaled down to better fit the screen. So, in and among those variables, what would qualify a movie to be considered the world’s smallest?
The world’s smallest movie is called A Boy and His Atom. It was created by IBM Research and is a stop motion movie that was made by manipulating atoms. To see it, the film has to be magnified over 100 million times.
The team used carbon monoxide molecules, consisting of two atoms each, to tell a one minute long, frame-by-frame story of a stick-figure boy and his single molecule pet/toy. The same team behind this created the tiny, 12-atom data storage we mentioned earlier.
You can actually see the difference between the atoms of carbon and the atoms of oxygen in each molecule when you watch it as one appears as a dark sphere and the other as light.
Despite the fact the short film represents amazing research in data storage and manipulation at the atomic level, viewers only gave the movie a 6.8 out of 10 on IMDb. There’s just no pleasing some critics.