Micro metric measurements in everyday products

SI is capable of measuring anything from the tiniest particles to the largest objects in the universe. While it may sound technical and scientific, there are practical benefits of tiny measurements in some everyday products. Here, Ronnie Cohen takes a look.

The thickness of laminated sheets is described and marketed in microns, an obsolete term for micrometres (millionths of a metre). Similarly, one thing to look for in quality office paper is its thickness. On the ZX printer website, for example, they give the thickness of printing paper in grams per square metre and in millimetres (Source: https://www.zxprinter.com/support/paper-thickness.html). I suspect the reason for their use of millimetres rather than micrometres is that millimetres are a more familiar to the general public. Familiarity comes with usage and millimetres are a lot more common. For our readers, I am converting the millimetres to micrometres. I give you a few of the tiny measurements to show how versatile the metric system in measuring the extremely small. On the conversion tables on their website, 80 g/m² art paper = 65 micrometres, 60 g/m² matt coated paper = 60 micrometres and 30 g/m² bible paper = 40 micrometres.

Tiny medical doses and ingredients are often expressed in micrograms (millionths of a gram). Micrograms are also used in medical advice to the general public. For example, the NHS advises “Babies up to the age of 1 year need 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.”. You can find vitamin D tablets on sale containing doses as small as 10 micrograms.

Semiconductor manufacturers compete to make increasingly sophisticated computer chips. The transistor gate lengths of computer chips are measured in nanometres (billionths of a metre). The Wikipedia page for Semiconductor Device Fabrication shows that manufacturers used a 10 micrometre manufacturing process in 1971. This figure has come down to 7 nanometres by 2018 and is predicted to come down further to 5 nanometres in 2020 and to 3 nanometres in 2022.

Solar cells are made using silicon wafers that are between 180 and 350 micrometres thick. Solar cells can be found in products such as solar panels and many solar-powered products such as calculators, watches, radios and lamps. You can find a more comprehensive list of solar-powered products on Wikipedia (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar-powered_products).

In the field of nanotechnology, nanoparticles are manipulated to produce better, stronger and more durable products. Nanoparticles are tiny microscopic particles and typically sized between 1 and 100 nanometres. Carbon nanotubes, a product of nanotechnology, have diameters measured in nanometres with some as little as 1 nanometre across (Source: https://www.britannica.com/science/carbon-nanotube). Carbon nanotubes are used in sports products, batteries and medical applications. They are used in a range of other common products as well. Nanotechnology has practical applications and has been applied to many products in the clothing, electronics, materials, healthcare, energy, transport and environment sectors. And this is not a comprehensive list.

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1 Response to Micro metric measurements in everyday products

  1. Martin Vlietstra says:

    One of the limitations of actually seeing the various things that Ronnie has written about using a conventional microscope is the wavelength associated with light. Red light has a wavelength that is typically up to 760 nanometres and violet light has a wavelength that is typically more than 380 nanometres. If the object that is being illuminated by light is smaller than these wavelengths, the light will not be reflected and you will not be able to see it. Electron microscopes do not use visible light which is why they can photpgraph objects that are smaller.

    In practice this means that you cannot see anything that is smaller than 0.001 millimetres unless you use an electron microscope.

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