Periodic Table Shrinks to Fit


by Tim Moran

It was chemist Martyn Poliakoff's birthday, and the team he works with at the University of Nottingham's Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Center (NNNC) wanted to give him a unique present. Hmmm..."We've got it," they said, "let's use beams of gallium ions to carve the Periodic Table onto one of Martyn's hairs!"

You really must view the video to understand why they settled on Poliakoff's hair (think Don King crossed with Einstein). They set about etching one of the, if not the, smallest Periodic Tables of Elements onto a single strand of the chemist's hair. In the video, Poliakoff actually checks the currency of the table that's to be engraved on his hair--"Ooooh! Periodic table! Is it right? Yes, it's even got copernicium there!"

Each symbol on final, etched periodic table is "four microns tall, or, in other words, it would take 250,000 of these symbols stacked on top of each other to reach a single meter."

At the end of the video, the lab technician who performed the feat presents Poliakoff with the etched hair in a little vial, which the birthday boy deems the best present he's had -- albeit on a slow day for presents. He can't show it off to anybody, of course. We doubt that even Martyn's friends have a quarter of a million dollar microscope at home. They'll just have to take his word for it.