A Sense of Scale: How Small Is Small?
man holding magnifying glass graphic
Feb 1, 2016

One of the most astounding aspects of semiconductor chips is their incredibly small scale. Practically measured in atoms, some feature dimensions are on the order of nanometers (nm) – that’s one billionth (10-9) of a meter and more than 10,000 times smaller than the size of objects that can be seen with the naked eye. That may sound impressive, but how meaningful is a measurement you can’t see?

To help you put this into perspective, we’ve created the following graphic. Starting from easily relatable objects and shrinking them bit by bit, you can begin to get a sense of just how tiny semiconductor device features can be. For example, you’d have to shrink a bicycle tire by about three times in order for it to be the same size as a soccer ball, then shrink that another three times to reach the size of an orange. Keep on shrinking and you’ll reach the dimensions of a grain of rice, a human hair, bacteria, and eventually the components of an advanced transistor.

Perhaps the next time you use your smartphone and other favorite electronics you will feel a bit more wonder about the amazingly small parts inside – and the exciting industry that creates them.

Learn more about the scale of semiconductor manufacturing in our blog articles “How High Is High?” and “How Big Is a Billion?


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