The NISE Network has created a scale ladder, a diagram that can quickly convey the size of the nanoscale by showing how objects are related by size. Using existing research on how people interpret scale, the Visualization Laboratory carried out a series of experiments to develop effective scale ladders as well as guidelines for their design and use. Please download and review "Guidelines for the Design and Use of Scale Ladders" when incorporating them into your own projects.
Scale Ladder Diagrams Available in the Catalog
- Image files (in various formats with and without rulers) (created by Viz Lab)
- Guidelines for the Use of Scale Ladders) (created by Viz Lab)
More Products with Scale Ladders Available in the Catalog
- How Small is Nano? book and poster
- How Small is Nano? video
- Shrinking Robots program
- Is That Robot Real? book and poster
- Key Concepts NanoDays 2012 posters
- The Scale of the Universe interactive media
Just how small is the nanoscale?
To understand why the nanoscale is different, we need to appreciate just how small it is. Whether creating an exhibit on the color of a butterfly wing or participating in a forum on the health risks of nanomedicine, working with topics in nanoscience requires context to give meaning to sizes and scales. One common way to represent the nanoscale visually relies on scale ladders, diagrams that show how objects are related by size. Using existing research on understanding size and scale, the Visualization Laboratory carried out a series of experiments to develop effective scale ladders as well as guidelines for their design and use. Diagrams are highly simplified figures, designed to quickly convey ideas or relationships using lines or shapes. Diagrams are particularly useful in exhibit graphics and presentations, when viewers need to quickly grasp a concept. Illustrations, by contrast, provide very realistic renderings of objects and often take more time to interpret.
More Information on the Scale Ladder
The scale ladder the NISE Network Visualization Lab created locates nano in a broader range of measurement. Based on traditional scale ladders, the purpose is to convey the size of the nanoscale (i.e., nano is smaller than a cell and bigger than an atom) to the widest range of audiences. In this context, it is not intended to be content-rich; on the contrary, it attempts to be visually economical. By necessity, this type of visualization aims for simplicity; the design goal is clarity, without any one element standing out in a distracting or confusing way. Our design principles follow the advice of data-visualization expert Edward Tufte, avoiding gratuitous elements and retaining only what cannot be removed without losing content. The scale ladder includes four major elements: a specific range, a selection of labeled iconic landmarks, colored and labeled scale domains presented on a vertical wedge, and a side ruler indicating actual measurements of each landmark. Our highest priority is presenting a relative scale highlighting the nanoscale range, with a secondary emphasis on the nanoscale as a domain among other scale domains.
- Evaluation Study: Scale Ladders - Communicating Size and Scale (PDF, 852 KB) This report documents a series of interview studies conducted at the Exploratorium to determine how museum visitors interpret scale ladders that focus on the nanoscale.
- Front-end Evaluation study: Visitors' Drawings of Small (PDF, 286 KB) This companion report documents how visitors depict the concept of "small."