Making use of the sophisticated scientific equipment at her disposal, Delft University of Technology physics Master’s student Maura Willems decided to give herself a challenge this holiday season: Building the world’s tiniest Christmas tree.
Willems used a scanning tunneling microscope to chip away individual atoms away from a crystal lattice, according to a Delft press release. The end result is a tree-shaped structure just four nanometers tall — barely thicker than a single strand of DNA.
Typically, a scanning tunneling microscope is used for research in which scientists need to find, study, or manipulate individual atoms.
Scanning tunneling microscopes have been used to study electron activity and superconductivity in graphene, aside from also giving scientists a better understanding of the universe as it operates on the smallest scales.
But set that all aside for now, because it also lets researchers pull off cool scientific stunts for their own sake, like this impossibly-small tree, which is built from just a small handful of atoms holding onto their lattice structure.
The tree, 20,000 times smaller than a human hair, may not reveal new insights into the atomic scale, but it does illustrate the cool stuff scientists can do when they’re bored.
READ MORE: Physics student makes world’s smallest Christmas tree [Delft University of Technology]
More on scanning tunneling microscopes: World’s Smallest MRI Machine Means We Can Now Scan Individual Atoms