Physics Student Builds the Smallest Christmas Tree Ever

Maura Willems' tree is about the size of a DNA strand and consists of 51 atoms.
Fabienne Lang
Smallest Christmas tree and the scanning tunneling microscopeTU Delft

'Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to celebrate than plonking a great big Christmas tree in your living room? 

One Applied Physics student from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands had a different view of how her Christmas tree would look like this year, though. 

"Behold, the world's smallest #ChristmasTree!" read a TU Delft post on Twitter. 

Indeed, Maura Willems decided to create what could well be the world's tiniest Christmas tree.


The equipment Willems used was much bigger than the tree she ultimately created. The complex device was a scanning tunneling microscope, which can scan individual atoms to build small structures.

It literally does this one atom at a time so as to study each atom's individual quantum mechanical properties. 

In the end, Willems had a 51 atom-"big" Christmas tree, which roughly translates as the size of a DNA strand. To provide an idea, a human hair is about 40,000 times wider. We're talking small. 

Willems' tree was precisely four nanometers tall, or four-millionths of a millimeter — without counting the tree-topper. 

It's fun to see such complex devices build a cheery creation such as a Christmas tree. It may not be extremely useful, but it's a little light-hearted physics fun. 

There's not a high chance you'll be able to buy such a Christmas bobble, but here's a list of things you can buy this season if you're looking for a little last-minute inspiration. 


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