…but size is nothing without scale

Image: Gary & Michael Huang, http://htwins.net/scale2/

Image: Gary & Michael Huang, http://​htwins​.net/​s​c​a​l​e2/

If you want charm­ing (cer­tainly) and inform­at­ive (largely), I urge you all to visit ‘The Scale of the Universe 2’, which was cre­ated by twins Cary and Michael Huang and is head­lined as ‘Teenagers cre­ate a pro­gram that lets view­ers com­pare the sizes of things on earth and in space’. The pro­gram – which resides at http://​htwins​.net/​s​c​a​l​e2/ – appar­ently star­ted as a 7th-grade (school­chil­dren aged 12–13 years) sci­ence pro­ject but – like Topsy – just ‘grow’d’ and expan­ded (!) as Cary col­lec­ted more inform­a­tion ‘from Wikipedia and astro­nomy books’ and Michael per­fec­ted the pro­gram­ming. The pro­gram is inter­act­ive and per­mits scrolling from the smal­lest ‘thing’ – ‘string’ meas­ured in tiny frac­tions of a yoc­to­metre (10–35 m) – up to 1027 m, the approx­im­ate size of the observ­able uni­verse. It has plenty of botan­ical interest too. For example, it not only illus­trates but also provides a little explan­at­ory nar­rat­ive on Rafflesia, chloro­plast, mito­chon­drion (yes, plants have these too – though some 1st year bio­logy under­gradu­ates – 18–19 years old – of my recent acquaint­ance don’t even know that!), nuc­leus, cof­fee bean, duck­weed, grain of rice, red­wood tree, oak tree and saguaro cac­tus. It’s not per­fect – a leg­acy of over-reliance on Wikipedia(?) – e.g. it includes sun­flower seed (described as 7 mm, but shown con­ver­ted as 7 × 103 meters [sic – but it’s not the spelling of metre I have the issue with!]) and the sun­flower plant, which – cor­rectly – shown at 2.5 × 100 m is actu­ally con­sid­er­ably smal­ler than the seed it grows from. It also includes the intriguing ‘inch ruler’ (that is actu­ally 30 cm long), and Russell’s teapot, which doesn’t even exist, but if it did, it would be – allegedly – 25 cm long. However, this is a really impress­ive pro­ject and one that’s great fun to explore. So, whether you are in space or on Earth you can now com­pare the size of things. Well done, twins!

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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