Quick, picture a scientist in your mind. Are they wearing a white lab coat, thick glasses, and a serious expression? That’s the typical image of a researcher, but the staff of the National Physics Laboratory (NPL) in the United Kingdom are shaking things up this holiday season.
Two researchers at the NPL took a break from improving Britain’s measurement standards accuracy to have a little fun for the holidays. They created the world’s smallest Christmas card to showcase their research – and their sense of humor.
You can’t see the card with your naked eye. It’s only 20 micrometers tall, or to put it in American standard measurements, roughly 0.00079 inches. More than 200 million of the cards could fit on a postage stamp.
Since you probably don’t have a powerful microscope handy, you’ll have to take the scientists’ word for what the card says. According to the National Physics Laboratory, the outside of the card has a picture of a snowman and the words “Seasons Greetings.” If you had tiny hands to open the card, you’d see that the inside reads “Seasons Greetings from NPL.”
The card was created from platinum-coated silicon nitrade and engraved by a focused ion beam. These materials and techniques are typically used to measure electronics materials used for creating computer components. It may seem like just a joke, but the card represents impressive achievements in materials research for computer technology. The previous smallest card was nearly twenty times the size of this one. Imagine if you could shrink your phone’s battery by a factor of twenty. Your phone would be much lighter, or you could choose a battery than can go weeks without a charge.
David Cox and Ken Mingard created the card. Both researchers contribute heavily to the NPL and their respective fields when they aren’t having fun in the laboratory. Dr. Mingard has been with the NPL for 15 years and has invented several microscopes. He previously worked in the metal industry and uses his previous career to inform his research efforts at the NPL. Dr. Cox has worked extensively in nanofabrication, or using machines to create objects smaller than a human hair, like this tiny Christmas card.
Few know what the National Physics Laboratory does. They serve an important role in keeping material components accurate. When you’re creating a new smartphone or manufacturing medical supplies, you need to know that every material you use is up to standards. The National Physics Laboratory stores thousands of material samples that have been thoroughly tested. You can compare your products to those on file to make sure you’re meeting quality standards.
In the United States, the Critical Materials Institute performs a similar job.