'O Canada': Researcher mounts microscopic flag on penny to celebrate 150 years

McMaster University research engineer Travis Casagrande has carved a microscopic, 3D Canadian flag on the face of a penny.

Focused ion beam microscope used to craft miniature tribute to Canada's 150 birthday

McMaster University research engineer Travis Casagrande used an ion beam microscope to carve a Canadian flag into the face of a penny. (McMaster University)

It's the smallest tribute to Canada that you'll ever see.

McMaster University research engineer Travis Casagrande has carved a microscopic, 3D Canadian flag on the face of a penny.

The carving — which is one one-hundredth the size of a human hair and invisible to the naked eye — is meant to be a celebration of Canada's 150th birthday this year, and a showcase of the microscopes at the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at the university.

So why use a penny?

"I wanted the chosen material to be something that's recognizably Canadian, and I was fresh out of goose feathers and moose antlers," Casagrande said.

The project is meant as a celebration of Canada's 150th birthday. (McMaster University)

To make the flag, Casagrande used a focused ion beam microscope, which is able to cut and reshape metal, as well as give extremely detailed images of a material's surface.

"It's actually not that difficult to make," he said (though the average person might disagree).

First, he used a focused beam of charged particles to carve a tiny hole in the coin, but left a miniature flagpole standing in the centre of it. Then, he moved to a different area, and cut out the flag shape, before attaching it to the flagpole.

The flag is so small, you can't see it with the naked eye. (McMaster University)

"The hardest part was probably achieving the correct flag shape," Casagrande said. The whole process took him about six hours.

Focused ion beam microscopes are usually used for materials research — which means they're used to understand the structure and properties of a material, to make things stronger, lighter, more affordable and efficient.

"The hope is that they're used to make things that will be used to make the world a better place," he said.

Now, Casagrande's patriotic work of art sits in a box by the microscope, ready and waiting for a demonstration.

"It has a meaning for me, but there's no plaque or anything like that," he said.

Even if there were, you'd need a microscope to see it, anyway.


About the Author

Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.