World's smallest magazine cover for National Geographic Kids

No, National Geographic Kids didn't forget to buy colored ink -- that's a blown-up view of the smallest-ever magazine cover, created by IBM to set a Guinness world record. The tech firm used a miniscule, heated silicon "chisel" to etch a polymer image measuring just 11 micrometers by 14 micrometers, or 2,000 times tinier than a grain of salt. The image is more detailed than you might expect at such a miniscule size, too. IBM's instrument responds to subtle changes in pressure in the same way that a 3D printer might, giving it accuracy down to a single nanometer.

The technology doesn't exist solely for bragging rights. IBM believes its tiny carving tool could be used to prototype nano-sized transistor devices, virtually invisible security tags and light-based connections for quantum computers. Finished products aren't likely to show up any time soon, but the ball is already rolling on further development. The company has licensed its design to SwissLitho, a startup that's selling related hardware to other researchers; it may not be long before we see more practical uses of IBM's small-scale machinery.

[Image credit: IBM Research, Flickr]

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The world's smallest magazine cover is 2,000 times smaller than a grain of salt