Some time ago, my labmates and I invented a character named “Nano Person” as a way of giving some frame of reference for the nano-scale. Nano Person fights nano-crime as well as societal biases and restrictive mindsets, but that’s a digression for another blog post. This thought experiment got me wondering, what would the world look like for Nano Person? What would their experience be like?
What better way to learn about someone’s experience than to take a walk in their shoes? Determined to find out more about Nano Person’s perspective, I contacted members of the Murphy lab at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (experts in synthesis of nanomaterials) to synthesize a nano-body for me. Sort of like Ant-Man, this suit would allow me to shrink down to a small enough size so that I could explore the nano world. They told me that, not only does the technology for any part of that not exist, but a human shrunk down that small would surely not survive the experience (For an informative, but perhaps graphic, discussion of why this might not work, check out this video from Kurzgesagt – parental supervision recommended for young viewers). Anyway, I figured we could reason our way through the idea and imagine what the nano world would look like to Nano Person. Since this is my imagination, we will call this very tiny human Nano Zack.
I’m about 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, about 1.5 ft (0.46 m) across and weigh about 150 lbs (68 kg). So, if I were to shrink down to 100 nm at my desk, I would be 100 nm tall and about 25 nm across. Since we know that humans just barely float in water we can guess that we have a density pretty close to that of water (1000 kg/m3), so since my weight is about 70 kg, my volume must be about 0.07 m3. Assuming my height and weight are proportional, at the nanoscale I might weigh around 4 micrograms. There are some issues here in assuming that my mass is changing associated with the laws of mass conservation but this is a bit of a no-win. Without getting into too much detail, we’d have to choose between a catastrophic sudden release of energy (think like, a lot of nuclear bombs), or keeping all of my mass and becoming uncomfortably dense. So we’ll just gloss over that part.