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Being small like a tardigrade - a demonstration

According to the typical questions by tv producers the average tv consumer might be terribly dumb or, positively speaking, refreshingly childish. A typical question by the producers is e.g.: are you able to recommend some kind of visual comparison with an everyday object in order to explain the tinyness of those tardigrades to the (dumb) viewer? Normally this discussion will be settled by means of a suggested comparison between the tardigrade body length and the diameter of a human hair, or simply the diameter of a salt grain. But even then the producers tend to suspect that the viewers might lack the respective basic understanding. The remains of those didactic discussions have found their way into our heads - and for this reason we cannot hinder our brains to silently seek out for fashionable tardigrade size comparison objects.

In this context we are proudly presenting our most recent "tardigrade ruler" acquisition, an old "MIKROCHIP" pin by the German BOSCH company:

[ Bosch microchip pin ] [ Bosch microchip pin, detail ]

Bosch microchip pin, 1980s. Overall length 44 mm

On closer inspection it becomes apparent that the BOSCH company actually used a real microchip in this PR product.
The mounting plate measures 12.5 mm x 15 mm, the microchip 2.8 mm x 4.1 mm

By means of the bare eye the microchip basically appears as a silvery surface area, possibly with some coating defects. But, no problem, we do have a microscope for this kind of object!

[ Bosch microchip pin, detail ]

The microchip surface area, as seen under the incident light microscope. This microchip is said to have been the brain of the BOSCH "ABS" vehicle brake control - some decades ago.

And now we are moving on to the tardigrade ruler function! How big might a typical tardigrade appear when positioned upon the chip? Just have a guess! Like the red symbol on the left side of the chip below?

No, a typical tardigrade, in particular a marine tardigrade would need only a tiny fraction of the microchip. We might easily place it on one of those silvery (0,2 mm x 0,2 mm) "islands" of the microchip surface area. The black arrow is pointing towards the "true size" tardigrade placeholder:

[ Bosch microchip pin, with tardigrade placeholder ]

The small red dot close to the end of the black arrow is symbolizing a Batillipes tardigrade in its actual size.

We are well aware that those tiny conductive structures on the microchip are demonstrating impressive technical and cultural achievements of the late 20th century. Nevertheless the structures are looking rather coarse when keeping in mind that the tardigrade is a multisensor self-sustaining creature, thus being able to feed, to sense, to move and to have sex with partners which might live many sand grains away.

Okay, in the meantime the electrical conducting paths produced by man have become much smaller, down to possibly 10 nanometers, but still we are far away from the ability to build a machine with the capabilities of a tardigrade.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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