Sizing it up or down

25 Nov

My scientific world is probably best defined as medium-to-small.  Because there’s usually a tie-in to a molecule, my conceptual world operates somewhere between the slightly sub-nanometer to human sizes of meters and kilometers. Except for my occasional forays into astronomy, I don’t often stretch my mind to light-years or cram it down to subatomic particles. But even then I’m often writing about the chemical stuff in cosmic clouds or the composition of Mars dust. But even the molecular world is maddening when trying to talk about size.

Science writers– particularly when we delve into the abstract– depend on reliable size comparisons. We can spend hours trying to come up with an appropriate size analogy as we desperately dodge  cliches.

But the internet is wonderful, and I’m continually amazed by its power to illustrate. Yesterday, via Amy Rice Doetsch, a science educator friend, I found out about this amazing web resource that bridges the wilds of biological sizes from coffee bean to carbon atom. In this case, a very slick set of graphics provide the equivalent of paragraphs of size perspective.

Then I went looking for even broader comparisons, and found this one— not quite as graphically refined– but one that goes all the way from cosmos to quark. I’d love to hear of other examples. In the meantime, enjoy!

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