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Secret Worlds: The Universe Within

View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

Once the tutorial has completely downloaded, a set of the arrows will appear that allow the user to increase or decrease the view magnitude in Manual mode. Click on the Auto button to return to the Automatic mode.

Notice how each picture is actually an image of something that is 10 times bigger or smaller than the one preceding or following it. The number that appears on the lower right just below each image is the size of the object in the picture. On the lower left is the same number written in powers of ten, or exponential notation. Exponential notation is a convenient way for scientists to write very large or very small numbers. For example, compare the size of the Earth to the size of a plant cell, which is a trillion times smaller:

Earth = 12.76 x 10+6 = 12,760,000 meters wide
(12.76 million meters)

Plant Cell = 12.76 x 10-6 = 0.00001276 meters wide
(12.76 millionths of a meter)

Scientists examine things in particular ways using a combination of very sophisticated equipment, everyday instruments, and many unlikely tools. Some phenomena that scientists want to observe are so tiny that they need a magnifying glass, or even a microscope. Other things are so far away that a powerful telescope must be used in order to see them. It is important to understand and be able to compare the size of things we are studying. To learn more about the relative sizes of things, visit our Perspectives: Powers of 10 activity site.

Note: - The sequence of images in this tutorial has been optimized for maximum visual impact. Due to the fact that discrete exponential increments are not always the most convenient interval for illustrating this concept, our artists and programmers have made dimensional approximations in some cases. As a consequence, the relative size and positioning of several objects in the tutorial reflect this fact.

The original concept underlying this tutorial was advanced by Dutch engineer and educator Kees Boeke, who first utilized powers to aid in visualization of large numbers in a 1957 publication entitled "Cosmic View, the Universe in 40 Jumps". Several years later, in 1968, architect Charles Eames, along with his wife Ray, directed a "rough sketch" film of the same concept and finally completed the work (entitled the "Powers of Ten") with the assistance of Philip Morrison in 1977. Other notable contributors to this effort include Philip's wife Phylis, who has assisted in translation of the concept into several beautifully illustrated books that are currently still available through the booksellers.

Purchase Nikon's Small World 2017 Calendar - The Nikon Small World 2017 Calendar is printed in full color on 8.5 x 11 semi-gloss paper and spiral bound for mounting on the wall. Included in the calendar are the top 20 prize winners and thumbnail images from all of the 15 honorable mentions. Winning entries included neurons, Quantum Dot crystals, plant tissues and fibers, cells in culture, recrystallized chemicals, animal tissue sections, a tapeworm, and several microscopic invertebrates. This year's contest drew entrants from over 50 countries, as well as from a diverse range of academic and professional disciplines. Winners came from such fields as chemistry, biology, materials research, botany, and biotechnology.

Contributing Authors

David A. Hahn, Christopher A. Burdett and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.