Don’t even try squinting to read this tiniest of Bibles

The Nano Bible is only 0.5 square millimeters, smaller than the head of a pin.Photos courtesy of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
The Nano Bible is only 0.5 square millimeters, smaller than the head of a pin.
Photos courtesy of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

All 24 books of the Hebrew Bible are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History — on a gold-plated silicon chip smaller than the head of a pin.

The world’s tiniest version of the Bible — the Nano Bible was created by researchers at Technion’s Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute in Israel. The two others created at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa reside at the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Vatican library near Rome.

The text, consisting of more than 1.2 million letters, can’t be seen by the human eye or even read with a regular microscope. It is less than 100 atoms thick.

“To read the text it is necessary to use a magnifying glass capable of 10,000 times magnification. That cannot be achieved with an optical microscope and requires an instrument called an electron microscope,” said Uri Sivan, a physics professor at the Technion, who along with Ohad Zohar, conceived and created the Nano Bible.

It wasn’t designed to be read, “but rather to demonstrate the wonders of miniaturization,” said Sivan.

He hopes that everyone, “and particularly youngsters,” will be inspired after seeing the Nano Bible “to reflect on the vast world that exists down there, invisible to our sense, and encourage them to imagine the vast potential of manipulating matter on the scale of nature’s fundamental building blocks.”

Sivan added, “We wanted to spark their imagination about this new era that is already materializing and affecting medicine material science, energy, environment, communication, computation and practically any aspect of our lives.”

He equated nature’s building blocks to a belief in Kabbalah that “letters are considered building blocks given by God to mankind to facilitate its intellectual creations.”

A nanometer, which comes from a Greek work meaning dwarf, is one-billionth of a meter, akin to the ratio of an olive to the Earth. It is “inconceivably small,” Sivan said. A human hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometers.

To produce the tiny book, the words of the Bible first are carved on a silicon chip by means of a focused ion beam. The beam dislodges gold atoms from the plating and creates the letters, Sivan said. The letters belong to a font unique to this technology and appear darker against the gold background.

“The entire process takes about an hour and a half,” he said.

Someday, “astronauts embarking on a decades-long mission to discover life in outer space” may use this technology to equip them with a copy of all the books ever written, he said.

The Smithsonian received this bible Oct. 30. It is housed in its Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology.

“We are excited to enrich the libraries’ collections with this marvelous gift, which marries one of the world’s oldest and most significant texts with one of the newest technologies of the 21st century,” said Nancy E. Gwinn, director of Smithsonian Libraries. “As one of our principal values is to share our collections with the public, it is appropriate that the only copy in the United States be located here, as part of the national collections.”

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