The Tiny Alice Project has produced one of the world’s smallest books, and possibly the smallest one ever! Fittingly for a project about the minuscule, the text reproduced is a classic of children’s literature: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
The project was an unlikely collaboration between a scientist and a fantasy literature expert, and supported by the Welsh Crucible.
Dr Daryl Beggs (Cardiff University) is a specialist on micro and nano-fabrication. After many years experience of using electron beam lithography to create quantum devices and photonic crystals, he has applied his expertise in the micro-printing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Dr Dimitra Fimi (University of Glasgow, formerly Cardiff Metropolitan University) is an expert on children’s fantasy literature and is interested in the transformative power of books for children and young adults. Her expertise in fantasy and intellectual history suggested Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as the perfect text to use for this project.
The word that links both areas of academic endeavour and which brought together physics and English literature is “miniaturisation”. Miniaturisation is a key term in nano-fabrication, and has transformed the technological capability of modern society by producing smaller and smaller mechanical, optical, and electronic products and devices. But it also a term linked with Victorian whimsy and the popularisation of science, from the tiny fairies of Victorian visual arts to the opening of new worlds under the lens of the microscope, and from doll’s houses to Alice “shutting up like a telescope”.
The aim of this project is to capture the public imagination, to encourage scientific innovation, and to highlight the ways in which the creative arts and science have often cross-pollinated and cross-fertilised each other. We want this project to inspire younger generations in Wales and the UK to consider the sciences and the humanities not as mutually exclusive fields, but as interweaved and interdependent. Just like the idea of miniaturisation links together in an exciting way a scientific field vital for economic progress with a literary text that continues to fascinate readers over 150 years after its original publication, so can science and the imagination work together to transform our lives and our futures.
Victorian culture was obsessed with the minuscule. It was the era in which the microscope was perfected and popularised, associating the scientific study of nature with enchantment and wonder. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland experimented with the idea of becoming very small. Alice’s changes in size have been linked with the technology of the time (e.g. microscopy and photography) as well as with the child’s perspective (feeling very small in an adult world).
At the same time, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has fascinated scientists over many generations. That shouldn’t be surprising, bearing in mind that Lewis Carroll himself was a mathematician. A number of scholars have explored the mathematical ideas and puzzles in the two Alice books (e.g. Robin Wilson’s Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life).
Last, but not least, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a children’s classic. This book has been endlessly reproduced, adapted, filmed, retold, and appropriated. Everyone knows it and recognizes it as a children’s classic. It is a book that resonates with young and old, which can inspire and enchant.
Find out more about Lewis Carroll and his interest in the microscopy and miniature books
Our tiny version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland engages with the latest, cutting-edge technology which can achieve a degree of miniaturisation the Victorians could only dream of. The method we have used is electron-beam lithography. Our reproduction of Alice has been printed on crystalline silicon using lettering of pure gold. With letters just 2 microns high, each page measures 85 microns by 60 microns.
Find out more about electron-beam lithography and how it works