How Small Can Stuff Get?

Everyone knows that a molecule of something is pretty small, and molecules are comprised of atoms so, therefore, atoms are smaller than molecules. But every time I see a demonstration of something that illustrates smallness it still amazes me.

In my Web surfing, which I spend way too much of my life doing, I came across the following illustration of smallness put together by an assignment team at the University of Utah (in them there United Stated of America).

I will give you the link to the actual illustration shortly, but before I do I want to ramble on about it a little bit. I am allowed to do this because I write the blog.

The following graphic, which is a screen grab taken from the University of Utah’s great semi-animated illustration, you can sort of see the relative size of a human egg in comparison to a grain of salt (and a coffee bean, grain of rice, and sesame seed).

In the next screen grab the human egg, which can only just be seen in the previous screen grab, is now the feature.

Notice in this grab the relative size of the e.coli bacterium—nasty little fellow (he can kill you if not detected and treated). He looks a bit like a squid. I recently had an abscess on my butt (hmmm, might be a good subject for a blog entry) that I had to go to hospital and have surgery to sort out. They drained 110 millilitres of live thriving healthy e.coli bacterium (otherwise generally referred to as ‘puss’) from the abscess.

Okay. Now I have got you interested—hopefully—here is the link to University of Utah’s little application* that shows you the size of some common cells, molecules, and atoms going all the way from a coffee bean down to a single atom of Carbon. Slowly slide the slider (using your mouse) to the right and watch the animation drill down to the atom of Carbon. Not that atoms are as small as things go, but obviously the team at the University of Utah thought this was far enough in order to make their point—stuff can get really small.


[Formal Citation:
Genetic Science Learning Center (2009, November 1) Cell Size and Scale. Learn.Genetics. Retrieved November 1, 2009, from]