Nanoseconds Associated with Grace Hopper

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This bundle consists of about one hundred pieces of plastic-coated wire, each about 30 cm (11.8 in) long. Each piece of wire represents the distance an electrical signal travels in a nanosecond, one billionth of a second. Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992), a mathematician who became a naval officer and computer scientist during World War II, started distributing these wire "nanoseconds" in the late 1960s in order to demonstrate how designing smaller components would produce faster computers.
The "nanoseconds" in this bundle were among those Hopper brought with her to hand out to Smithsonian docents at a March 1985 lecture at NMAH. Later, as components shrank and computer speeds increased, Hopper used grains of pepper to represent the distance electricity traveled in a picosecond, one trillionth of a second (one thousandth of a nanosecond).
Reference: Kathleen Broome Williams, Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004.
Currently not on view
date made
Hopper, Grace Murray
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 1 cm x 32 cm x 8 cm; 13/32 in x 12 19/32 in x 3 5/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
nonaccession number
Credit Line
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Computers & Business Machines
Women Mathematicians
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


OMG putting these up at 1:1 size then making a webpage that says "calibrate your atom " with an image of a laser pointer. You can watch the nanoseconds!

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