#3. A Fully Functional Radio One Molecule Thick
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We joked about the concept of a nano-scale iPod earlier, but apparently the concept of a molecule-size music player isn't a joke to a team of researchers with the University of California, who created a fully functioning radio from a single nanotube.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Come back when you have the mass of a radium atom, junior.
For the uninitiated, a nanotube is technically a single molecule of carbon organized into the shape of a tiny tube, smaller than you could conceivably imagine. It's like a single hair from an '80s bacterium's mullet. And far be it for such wizards to create a thing like this and just call it a day -- they've gone ahead and figured out how to convert them into consumer electronics that look something like this ...
Suck on it, Bose.
... and then physicist Alex Zettl proceeded to make that impossibly tiny radio pick up commercial radio stations.
While a radio small enough for viruses to rock out to seems pretty useless to us, scientists think they might find a practical use for their discovery in futuristic hearing aids, or at the very least Bluetooth devices that can be implanted directly into your ear. Because seeing people on the street talking into barely visible headpieces isn't confusing enough already.
#2. Nano-Scale "Forests"
If a nanotree falls in a nanoforest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a nanosound? Scientists from the University of California have finally figured out how to answer this timeless philosophical question by making a forest out of tiny little nanotrees.
Wang Research Group/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Let's just hope no microscopic lumberjacks show up and spoil the party.
Well, they're not trees in the literal sense, but tiny "nanowire" replicas made out of silicon and zinc oxide. Each one is about 1 micrometer wide (by comparison, a sheet of paper is about 90 micrometers thick). The tree design is deliberate, by the way -- they're trying to create better solar cells, and nature does that shit better than we do.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Also: tiny pipe cleaners.
Researchers discovered that, despite common intuition, the tall, vertical structure of trees is better at gathering light than the wide, flat surface of a solar panel. That's because of all the leaves, which have a lot more combined surface area. But while nature provides the innovation, it lacks precision engineering, which is why scientists took the general concept that nature invented and shrank it down to more practical levels of portability. Now grow us a bunch of little pocket-size dinosaurs, goddamn it!
#1. 3D-Printed Nanobatteries
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One of the biggest challenges to science's quest to create tiny swarms of potentially evil nanobots has traditionally been the problem of how to power them. After all, the ability to construct molecule-thick radios is pointless if we have to wire them up to bulky cellphone batteries that to them would be the size of skyscrapers. But they've cracked this puzzle, too, thanks to the ultimate buzz term of the 2010s, 3D printing.
Ke Sun, Teng-Sing Wei, Jennifer A. Lewis, Shen J. Dillon
Too bad we don't have a microscopic Gameboy.
A team based at the Wyss Institute has successfully used a 3D printer to create the world's smallest lithium-ion battery. That's the same kind of battery that runs your cellphone and laptop, except this one is the size of a grain of sand. And that's not an exaggeration, it's literally the closest thing that compares:
Try not to drop it.
The advent of nanobatteries -- which are printed by a nozzle more narrow than a human hair -- is what will make the invention of all other tiny things possible, presumably up to and including a Fantastic Voyage-style spaceship that flies around in your veins.
Scientists have already invented a very tiny shitload of microscopic devices in every field from medicine to communications that have until now languished dormant on lab benches for want of power, but now they may have found the final piece to complete the puzzle. We just hope that we get a few years of beneficial applications before the evil nanoswarm becomes self-aware.
Related Reading: Tiny things and technology don't always go together this well. Read about these very small computer glitches that had very big impacts. Like the time Google accidentally flagged the entire Internet as malicious. Or the time a .50 cent computer chip nearly lead us to nuclear war. Still hungry for more signs of man's hubris collapsing in the wake of his incompetence? Cracked has you covered.
These scientists couldn't hold a nano-candle to Nikola Tesla, mainly because his lightning cannons would incinerate them first. After honoring Tesla's legacy, honor your own by being as awesome as possible.
And if you're in a rush and just need a quick fix of Cracked, check out 5 Awful Ways Companies Commemorated 9/11 on Twitter.