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11 Teeny Units of Measurement for Tiny Things

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ThinkStock

There are things in the world that are too small to perceive directly, but that doesn’t mean we can’t measure them. Here are 11 teeny units of measurement used to describe tiny things.

1. The Shake

When someone tells you they’ll be “back in two shakes!” they are guaranteed to take much, much longer than that—at least if we’re talking shakes in the sense used by physicists. The shake is a unit used to describe the time it takes for one step in a nuclear chain reaction, or 10 billionths of a second. 

2. The Jiffy

Even faster than the shake is the jiffy, a unit used to describe the time it takes for light to travel a distance the size of a nucleus. Light takes a little more than a second to travel from the moon to Earth, so to travel the span of a nucleus? Yeah, very fast. The jiffy is also used in other fields, like computer engineering, where it has to do with the computer's clock cycle. But in that case it represents a yawningly slow 10 milliseconds.

3. The Planck time

A unit of Planck time is how long it takes for light to travel a unit of Planck length. These Planck units were named for the physicist Max Planck, who introduced them in order to provide a way to more simply describe the universe in terms of universal constants. Or something. Let’s just say it’s useful for quantum physics. A unit of Planck time is a about a sextillion times faster than a jiffy.

4. The Barn

Physicists also need ways to measure area, but in the world of atoms something we think of as tiny might be seen as pretty huge in relative terms. I mean, have you seen a uranium nucleus? Really, if you're looking at nucleuses all day, it's huge! That's why nuclear scientists named its size after a barn. Compared to all those other puny nucleuses, it really is as big as a barn. One barn is 10^(-28) square meters. There's also the megabarn, the kilobarn, the millibarn, the microbarn—also commonly referred to as an "outhouse"—all the way down to the teeny little yoctobarn, also known as a "shed." 

5. The Angstrom

The Angstrom, named for physicist Anders Ångström, is a unit of length used for measuring light waves. An Angstrom is one tenth of a nanometer, which is to say one ten-billionth of a meter. The human eye can perceive light in the 4000 to 7000 Angstrom range. Describing the range of electromagnetic radiation in terms of Angstroms really brings home how large the range is and how much of it we can’t see. Ultraviolet goes all the way down to 10 Angstroms and infrared goes up to a million.

6. The Attogram

About 10 years ago scientists figured out how to weigh things at the attogram level, one attogram being 10^(-18), or a quintillionth, of a gram. A small virus weighs about 10 attograms, much less than a typical bacterium, measurable in comparably giant (10^(-12) gram) picograms.

7. The Becquerel

Named for Henri Becquerel, who, along with the Curies, was awarded the Nobel Prize for work on radiation physics, the becquerel is a measurement of radioactivity. When atoms change and emit particles, the process is called radioactive decay. One becquerel is the radiation of one decay per second. Another unit of measurement for radioactivity is the curie, but a curie represents 37 billion decays per second.

8. The Jansky

The jansky is a unit used by astronomers to characterize a source of light (or other energy). It was named for physicist Karl Jansky. One jansky is 10^(-26) watts per square meter per hertz. Things in the sky that we can see will have measurements in the thousands of janskys (or millions in the case of the sun), but most of what’s out there is only measureable in exceedingly tiny fractions of that, which is why it’s useful for astronomers to have the jansky be so small.

9. The Centipawn

Chess programs need a way to measure the relative strength of different moves or players’ positions, and this is achieved with centipawns. If you lose a pawn, you are down one pawn, but the cost of that loss is divided into 100 parts for purposes of evaluation. In comparing two possible moves that don’t differ by much, a slight advantage for one can be represented by a few centipawns.

10. The Micromort

The micromort is a unit for measuring the statistical probability of death. One micromort is a one-in-a-million chance of death. Smoking 1.4 cigarettes or spending an hour in a coal mine increase your risk of death by one micromort each. Going skydiving increases it by 7 micromorts. You incur 39 micromorts just by living another day. Micromort units can be useful in the insurance industry, but you probably don’t want to think about them too much in your day-to-day life.

11. The Quasihemidemisemiquaver

The Quasihemidemisemiquaver is a British term from musical notation for what Americans boringly call the 128th note. Actually, most people don’t call it anything, because it’s almost never talked about. Most musical compositions don’t have anything higher than a 32nd note, or demisemiquaver, which is about the length of a note in a trill or a fast run. Every once in a while, a run of hemidemisemiquavers, or 64th notes, will show up. But the quasihemidemisemiquaver is rare enough to merit a truly extraordinary 10-syllable name. It’s even better if you try to say it to a quasihemidemisemiquaver beat.

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From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
PlayNJ
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20 States With the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer
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They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Floridians get to soak up the sun year-round, but that exposure to harmful UV rays also comes with consequences. Prevention magazine reported that Florida has the highest rate of skin cancer in the U.S., according to a survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).

BCBS surveyed 9 million of its insured members who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2014 and 2016 and found that Florida had the highest rate of skin cancer at 7.1 percent. People living in eastern states tend to be more prone to skin cancer, and diagnoses are more common among women.

Here are the 20 states with the highest rates of skin cancer:

1. Florida: 7.1 percent
2. Washington, D.C.: 5.8 percent
3. Connecticut: 5.6 percent
4. Maryland: 5.3 percent
5. Rhode Island: 5.3 percent
6. Vermont: 5.3 percent
7. North Carolina: 5.2 percent
8. New York: 5 percent
9. Massachusetts: 5 percent
10. Colorado: 5 percent
11. Arizona: 5 percent
12. Virginia: 5 percent
13. Delaware: 4.8 percent
14. Kentucky: 4.7 percent
15. Alabama: 4.7 percent
16. New Jersey: 4.7 percent
17. Georgia: 4.7 percent
18. West Virginia: 4.5 percent
19. Tennessee: 4.5 percent
20. South Carolina: 4.4 percent

It may come as a surprise that sunny California doesn’t make the top 20, and Hawaii is the state with the lowest rate of skin cancer at 1.8 percent. Prevention magazine explains that this could be due to the large population of senior citizens in Florida and the fact that the risk of melanoma, a rare but deadly type of skin cancer, increases with age. People living in regions with higher altitudes also face a greater risk of skin cancer due to the thinner atmosphere and greater exposure to UV radiation, which explains why Colorado is in the top 10.

The good news is that the technology used to detect skin cancer is improving, and researchers hope that AI can soon be incorporated into more skin cancer screenings. To reduce your risk, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen when you know you’ll be spending time outside, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours. 

[h/t Prevention]

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