Technicians at a federal nuclear weapons lab decided to celebrate the holidays in a small way this year--by creating what may be the world's tiniest Christmas ornament.
The decoration the team from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory came up with is a glass ball barely visible to the human eye that nevertheless has a Christmas tree and the words "Merry Christmas 1985--Target Fab" etched onto it.
"It's so small that several human hairs can block it from view," lab spokeswoman Sue Stephenson said before Wednesday's official unveiling.
Scientists at Livermore say the ornament has a diameter of 200 microns; a micron is one-millionth of a meter.
In other words, it's small enough to fit between two pillars of the Lincoln Memorial as shown on the back of a penny, Stephenson said.
"Target Fab" stands for the lab's target fabrication group, which makes tiny targets for the lab's lasers. The group's work involves laser fusion research with an eye toward new energy sources, not weapons study, Stephenson said.
Plated in Gold
In their normal work, Target Fab technicians make small glass balls that are filled with fusion fuel. When a laser strikes the target, energy is released, Stephenson said.
For the Christmas ornament, the technicians plated the glass ball in gold, which allowed them to etch the tree and words onto it, and skipped the fuel. The idea grew out of the need to test a new piece of equipment at the lab, about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, Stephenson said.
"They had to exercise a new machine, so they figured, 'Why not write Merry Christmas?' " Stephenson said.
Although she admitted that the lab can't be certain the ornament is the world's smallest, Stephenson said, "I defy anyone to challenge us."
Fulfillment of the lab's quest for the diminutive yule bauble is not without dilemmas.
"We haven't found a hook small enough to hang it from a tree," Stephenson said.
And they haven't even started looking for a tree yet.