Sunday, November 1, 2009


The University of Utah has a cool model scaling from a coffee bean to a carbon atom (h/t Andrew Sullivan). They also have an interactive cell model and some other great stuff. To give an idea of the size of a nanometer, it's roughly the amount a man's beard grows as he lifts a razor to shave it.

In fact, there is an actual unit of measurement called a "beard-second". It's the physics tiny measurement partner of the light year. Wikipedia defines it as "the length an average physicist's beard grows in a second", equivalent to either 5 or 10 nanometers. I assume the namer intended some humor and, as far as physics jokes go, it's a damn good one. You can convert measurements to beard-seconds using the Google search bar. The influenza virus (see image) is roughly 25 beard-seconds.

(image credit: