Size measures for items related to cells

This page lists order of magnitude estimates for the sizes of various microscopic items that are related to cells. The goal is to give a rough sense of what individual sizes mean, since these are too small for us to compare with our day-to-day intuitions.

Units for length

Units

Unit for length (full word) Unit for length (shorthand) In terms of meters (m) What's it used to measure?
femtometer fm $10^{-15}$ nucleus of an atom (not nucleus of a cell). Rarely used in biology
picometer pm $10^{-12}$ radius and diameter of an atom or size of a molecule. Used in biology when talking about biological membranes and passage of ions through membranes
angstrom A $10^{-10}$ sizes of molecules, wavelengths of light
nanometer nm $10^{-9}$ sizes of very large molecules, substructures and organelles of cells, wavelengths of light
micron or micrometer $\mu$ m $10^{-6}$ sizes of cells and cellular organelles
millimeter mm $10^{-3}$ Rarely used in cell biology. May be used for tissues and cell clusters

Conversion between units

Unit for length (full word) Unit for length (shorthand) Number of fm Number of pm Number of angstroms Number of nm Number of $\mu$ m Number of mm
femtometer fm 1 $10^{-3}$ $10^{-5}$ $10^{-6}$ $10^{-9}$ $10^{-12}$ picometer pm $10^{3}$ 1 $10^{-2}$ $10^{-3}$ $10^{-6}$ $10^{-9}$ angstrom A $10^{5}$ $10^{2}$ 1 $10^{-1}$ $10^{-4}$ $10^{-7}$ nanometer nm $10^{6}$ $10^{3}$ 10 1 $10^{-3}$ $10^{-6}$ micron or micrometer $\mu$ m $10^{9}$ $10^{6}$ $10^{4}$ $10^{3}$ 1 $10^{-3}$ millimeter mm $10^{12}$ $10^{9}$ $10^{7}$ $10^{6}$ $10^{3}$ 1

Lengths of items related to cell size

Item Number of meters Number of fm Number of pm Number of angstroms Number of nm Number of $\mu$ m Number of mm
diameter of atomic nucleus (varies with element) = twice the nuclear radius $1.5*10^{-15}-1.5*10^{-14}$ 1.5-15 $1.5*10^{-3}-1.5*10^{-2}$ $1.5*10^{-5}-1.5*10^{-4}$ $1.5*10^{-6}-1.5*10^{-5}$ $1.5*10^{-9}-1.5*10^{-8}$ $1.5*10^{-12}-1.5*10^{-11}$ diameter of atom (varies with element) = twice the atomic radius $5*10^{-11}-6*10^{-10}$ 5000-60000 50-600 0.5-6 0.05-0.6 $5*10^{-5}-6*10^{-4}$ $5*10^{-8}-6*10^{-7}$ thickness of lipid bilayer $10^{-9}-10^{-8}$ $10^{6}-10^{7}$ 1000-10000 10-100 1-10 $10^{-3}-10^{-2}$ $10^{-6}$ -$10^{-5}$ diameter of prokaryotic cell (varies based on organism) $10^{-6}-10^{-5}$ $10^{9}-10^{10}$ $10^{6}-10^{7}$ $10^{4}-10^{5}$ 1000-10000 1-10 $10^{-3}-10^{-2}$ diameter of eukaryotic cell (varies based on organism and cell type) $10^{-5}-10^{-4}$ $10^{10}-10^{11}$ $10^{7}-10^{8}$ $10^{5}-10^{6}$ $10^{4}-10^{5}$ 10-100 0.01-0.1