Nano-noise Feynman atomic vibration

Paul Thomas

In 1959 Feynman presented his paper

Why cannot we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the head of a pin?

‘Let’s see what would be involved. The head of a pin is a sixteenth of an inch across. If you magnify it by 25,000 diameters, the area of the head of the pin is then equal to the area of all the pages of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Therefore, all it is necessary to do is to reduce in size all the writing in the Encyclopaedia by 25,000 times. Is that possible? The resolving power of the eye is about 1/120 of an inch—that is roughly the diameter of one of the little dots on the fine half-tone reproductions in the Encyclopaedia. This, when you demagnify it by 25,000 times, is still 80 angstroms in diameter—32 atoms across, in an ordinary metal. In other words, one of those dots still would contain in its area 1,000 atoms. So, each dot can easily be adjusted in size as required by the photoengraving, and there is no question that there is enough room on the head of a pin to put all of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.’

Feynman, R. P. (2006). “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” Retrieved 11/01/07, 2007, from

This passage from Feynman 1959 paper ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ demonstrates an interesting anglo-centric focus through the choice of  the Encyclopaedia Brittanica being the basis on knowledge. The knowledge is then demonstrated as being equal to scale or mass as a material asset. How many pages it contained etc. Literally taking a mimetic body of knowledge to be constituted from the substrate of paper on which it was written. Therefore seeing the information as a thing that can be constructed and deconstructed.

Feynman’s  words captured peoples imagination by creating a visual metaphor for the reduction of scale necessary to deal with the emergence of Nanotechnology.

The Nano-noise work reflects the transmutation of knowledge presented by Feynman by speaking part of his 1959 paper to  an Atomic Force Microscope. The AFM in force spectroscopy mode was recording the atomic vibration occurring on the surface membrane of a pin’s head whilst simultaneously picking up my voice reading the from the paper.

Sample of audio of reading Feynman’s 1959 paper to an AFM while it was scanning the head of a pin.