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Atomic-scale magnetic memory

The computer you're working on stores one bit of data in about 1 million atoms. With atomic-scale magnetic memory, 12 is the new million.


Being able to increase the data density of devices means more storage in a smaller space: specifically, storage that is 100 times denser than today's hard disk drives, 150 times more dense than solid-state memory. An entire music and movie collection could fit on a charm-sized pendant around your neck.

Atomic-scale magnetic memory aerial density is potentially: 100x denser than today`s hard dish drive technology. 160x denser than NAND Flash. 417x denser than DRAM. 10,000x denser than SRAM

Microprocessor transistor count 1971-2011. rransistor count 2,600,000,000

The challenge of Moore's Law

We expect our hard drives to store more and cost less every few years. But by current conventions the technology industry is reaching the physical limits of its faithful adherence to Moore's Law, which says that the number of transistors on a microchip will approximately double every two years.

To continue to advance, new methods were needed to pack more data storage and computing capabilities into smaller spaces.

The world's smallest bit

Scientists from IBM Research have been investigating and controlling matter on an atomic scale for decades. So, naturally, their latest quest would involve greatly decreasing the storage capacity needed for one bit of data, which on today's computers stands at about 1 million atoms.

They set out to develop the ultimate memory chips of the future. Starting at the very beginning of density—single atoms—they created the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit and answered the question of how many atoms it takes to reliably store one bit of magnetic information at a low temperature: 12.

By studying the behavior of atoms, researchers can identify crucial factors for building smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices for business and consumers.

A history of innovation

As one of the last remaining industrial labs, IBM continues to emphasize fundamental science and investment in R&D. In its 30 years of spintronic research, IBM helped set the stage for the nanotechnology revolution.

And now, will likely change computing and data storage—and maybe even what you wear around your neck—forever.

Meet the team

Andreas HeinrichAndreas Heinrich
Principle Investigator
Research Scientist: Physics, IBM Research - Almaden


Chris LutzChris Lutz
Research Scientist: Physics, IBM Research - Almaden


Dan RugarDan Rugar
Manager, Nanoscale Studies, IBM Research - Almaden

Spike NarayanSpike Narayan
Director, Science & Technology, IBM Research - Almaden

Atomic-scale moviemaking

Nanotechnology breakthroughs from IBM Research


The Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM): the first ready access to the nanoscale world


The Atomic Force Microscope: general-purpose imaging and manipulation in the nanometer realm


IBM scientists Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer win the Nobel Prize in Physics for the STM


IBM Fellow Don Eigler controllably manipulates individual atoms on a surface, using the STM


The world's first single-molecule computer circuit: a major step toward molecular computers


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques are developed to visualize nanoscale objects


The world's fastest graphene transistor: higher frequencies for the next generation of communication devices


The first high-speed measurements of individual atoms: seen and captured in real time using the STM