Trivia

Hard

A “Barn” Is A Unit Of Measurement Used In What?

Nuclear Physics
Cell Tower Construction
Sailing
Data Backup
An image of an actual lead ion collision taken from tracking detectors on the NA49 experiment, part of the heavy ion project at CERN.
CERN/CERN Document Server

Answer: Nuclear Physics

When you think of a barn, you likely think of a large storage building located on a farm. In the teeny tiny world of nuclear physics, however, a barn is an absolutely minuscule measurement of area equal to 1.0×10−28 m2.

The term originated in the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. Physicists working at Purdue University needed a secret term to refer to the approximate cross-section of the nucleus of an atom. The decision to use “barn” as the term was a clever joke since their research focused on hitting the nucleus with an accelerated particle—an extremely difficult task—but the American English idiom “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn” suggests someone has aim so poor that they couldn’t hit a large object with a baseball.

There are two derivative units of area measurement used less frequently: the outhouse (1.0×10−6 barns) and the shed (1.0×10−24 barns).

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