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World's Smallest Things
World's Smallest Things - Can you see it ?
Often we wonder at the vastness of space, and at the scope of the universe. We are but one planet in one solar system around one star out of billions. The Earth next to Jupiter would look like a pebble next to a beach ball, and that is just within our own solar system. So far away are the stars we look at at night, that the light that reaches us from them actually takes millions of years to get to our planet – so big is the universe in fact then that we are actually looking back in time when we look up at the night sky. This is truly incredible for sure and more than enough to make anyone feel a bit small. But the reality is that our universe is far more complex and vast than even we know, and that the microscopic world is just as baffling as the macroscopic one – if not more so. Did you know for instance, that when looking at a table or a rock, that this is actually made of billions of tiny particles. You probably did, but perhaps what you didn't know is that tables and rocks and any matter is actually made up of more space than it is matter. The particles in a table are held together by energy, but the space between each particle is several times (sometimes several hundred times) the size of the particles themselves. If you could zoom in to that level then the table would look more like a 'mesh' than a 'solid' and in fact the very concept of a 'solid' is really something human. To us a solid is anything where the number of particles are too great for us to see through and too close for us to pass through – however for the particles themselves a table is no more a solid than the space between two planets. Meanwhile the 'spaces' that we do walk through are not in fact empty but filled with bacteria, dust particles, pollen, dead skin, oxygen, carbon, minerals and more, all of which we remain largely unaware of as we pass through our world.
We are evolved then to see only the things that are large enough to affect us, but there is a world of things going on around us that are simply astounding and that challenge the entire way we view the universe. Scientists are trying constantly to understand this microscopic but each new discovery brings with it more questions. Here are just a few of the world's smallest things, just to outline the baffling nature of the world's smallest things.
The world's smallest technology: Scientists have developed the tools that now allow us to work on a microscopic level and to create 'nanotechnology'. This is any device that is only one atom across in any dimension, and it has countless applications in medicine, military use and consumer products. In one application nano technology could be used in our blood streams to help fight viruses like robotic white blood cells. Nano technology is not a thing of the future either and is already being used as a protective coating in products as seemingly mundane as baseball bats – though there is some controversy as to the potential risks of nano technology and whether it is able to pass through our skin into our bodies and cause damage.
The world's smallest virus: The world's smallest virus is the Porcine Circovirus which infects pigs. It is 17nm (nanometres = 1 billionth of a metre).
The world's smallest organism: Scientists do not normally class viruses as organisms and so the smallest living creature would be the Nanoarchaeum Equitans at just 400nm. Actually a symbiont, it must be in contact with its host, the 'Ignicoccus' in order to survive, and it pushes the boundaries and definitions of the term 'living organism'. While the single celled organism cannot synthesise nucleotides for energy, amino acids, lipids or cofactors (relying on its host for these processes), it has many DNA repair facilities.
The world's smallest particle: At a microscopic level there are many strange particles that make up the particles that make up the atoms that make us. The smallest currently recognised by science are gluons and quarks. Fascinatingly though, some scientists believe that some particles exist that are undetectable to modern techniques that can be observed only through their interactions with other particles and it may even be that others still exist that are too small even to make any noticeable interaction. There are many 'hypothetical' particles among these that have yet to be observed directly or in some cases proven at all. It is only possible to speculate just how small these particles might go... and at some points the line between energy and matter becomes blurred and 'size' no longer becomes a relevant description (quarks themselves may be made up of 'strings'). This is where you begin to get into the realms of quantum physics where all kinds of strange things can happen.