Can your DNA get a sunburn?

At the moment DNA absorbs ultraviolet light (UV) from the sun, it’s possible – in less than a trillionth of a second – for our DNA strands to be damaged. Though not always likely, this damage can sometimes be the beginning of skin cancer.

In a billionth of a second, light travels one foot. Grace Hopper is famous for handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot long which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. A nanosecond is one billionth of a second.

A picosecond is a trillionth of a second. One millionth of one millionth of a second. A billion times faster than a second. [wiki] That’s the time taken for light to move 1 millimetre.

A picosecond is to a second, what a second is to 32 million years.

By scanning DNA molecules, by looking over the molecules using equipment that can “see” the position of the parts of us that are rapidly vibrating at these incredible speeds, scientists have seen DNA get “sunburned”.

The damage happens with astounding speed — in less than one picosecond, or one millionth of one millionth of a second. The journal Science, reported that the damage depends greatly on the position of the DNA at the moment the UV strikes the molecule.

But all that is just plain slow.
A femtosecond is to a second, what a second is to a hundred million years.

A femtosecond is a million times shorter than a nanosecond – one billionth of one millionth of a second. [wiki]

To make even the fastest moving objects look like they are standing still, such as the moving DNA molecules in our body, the world’s fastest camera has a ‘shutter speed’ measured in femtoseconds to make movies of the life and death of molecules. It took 6 years, 20 people and $6 million to build.