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‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to celebrate than plonking a great big Christmas tree in your living room? 

One Applied Physics student from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands had a different view of how her Christmas tree would look like this year, though. 

“Behold, the world’s smallest #ChristmasTree!” read a TU Delft post on Twitter. 

Indeed, Maura Willems decided to create what could well be the world’s tiniest Christmas tree.

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The equipment Willems used was much bigger than the tree she ultimately created. The complex device was a scanning tunneling microscope, which can scan individual atoms to build small structures.

TU Delft student, Maura Willems, with the scanning tunneling microscope. Source: TU Delft

It literally does this one atom at a time so as to study each atom’s individual quantum mechanical properties. 

In the end, Willems had a 51 atom-“big” Christmas tree, which roughly translates as the size of a DNA strand. To provide an idea, a human hair is about 40,000 times wider. We’re talking small. 

Willems’ tree was precisely four nanometers tall, or four-millionths of a millimeter — without counting the tree-topper. 

It’s fun to see such complex devices build a cheery creation such as a Christmas tree. It may not be extremely useful, but it’s a little light-hearted physics fun. 

There’s not a high chance you’ll be able to buy such a Christmas bobble, but here’s a list of things you can buy this season if you’re looking for a little last-minute inspiration. 

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