The world’s smallest book: showcasing the wonder of miniaturisation to engage with the public imagination

Researchers: Daryl Beggs (PI, Physics, Cardiff University) & Dimitra Fimi (English Literature, University of Glasgow – previously Cardiff Metropolitan University)


This collaboration has produced the smallest ever printed copy of Lewis Carrol’s children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

Victorian culture was obsessed with the minuscule. Victorians perfected and popularised the microscope, associating the scientific study of nature with enchantment and wonder. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland experimented with the idea of becoming very small, linking Alice’s changes in size with the technology of the time (e.g. microscopy) and with the child’s perspective (feeling very small in an adult world).

Our miniscule book was produced through the latest, cutting-edge technology (electron-beam lithography) which can achieve miniaturisation the Victorians could only dream of. Our reproduction of Alice is printed on crystalline silicon using lettering of pure gold, with letters just two microns high (compare with a human hair, which has a diameter of 60 microns).

Scanning electron microscope images of the full book.
(Left) An overview image showing all 78 pages. (Centre) An image of just one page.
(Right) A close-up image showing the detail of the lettering

Our tiny book is accompanied by a website which explains the technology behind the project, explores Lewis Carroll’s engagement with the technology of his time (microscopes and microphotographs), and links in an organic way the nano-scale with the imagination, from conceptually understanding what a nanometre is, to the popularity of miniature characters in children’s literature.

Our project included a school visit, to share with primary school children the technology and literary imagination behind the project. On the website, teachers will find relevant activities, which they can use in class to explore concepts of scale, and the relationship between science, technology, and the imagination.

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