Every year people around the world try to make the largest artificial Christmas tree. Maura Willems, an applied physics student at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), decided to do the opposite. She has created what is probably the smallest Christmas tree in the world.
The example of the largest Christmas tree in the world is well known. The Ingino Christmas tree is a Christmas tree-shaped light structure installed annually on the slopes of Ingino, outside the city of Gubbio, in the Umbria region of Italy. The tree is also called the “Gubbio Christmas tree,” or the largest Christmas tree in the world.
However, no one has tried to create the smallest Christmas tree before.
During her studies, student Willems works with a scanning tunneling microscope. It is a sophisticated device capable of scanning individual atoms and even changing their position. She uses this microscope to create small structures, literally atom by atom, to study their quantum mechanical properties.
Just before the New Year holidays, Willems came up with the idea to make a Christmas tree by removing 51 atoms from a perfect crystal lattice. The tree is exactly 4 nanometers in height or 4 millionths of a millimeter (excluding the top).
The Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) is the predecessor to all scanning probe microscopes. It was invented in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer at IBM Zurich. Five years later, they were awarded the Nobel Prize for their invention in physics. STM was the first microscope to provide surface images with exact atomic resolution.