How to move an atom
May 1, 2013 | Written by: IBM Research Editorial Staff
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IBM Research scientist
and atom mover
IBM scientists take you inside the workings of a scanning tunneling microscope and the discoveries they’ve made.
In 2012, IBM Research scientists create the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit using only 12 atoms. The still-experimental atomic-scale magnet memory is 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.
A tiny current flows between the needle tip and the surface by a process called quantum mechanical tunneling – thus the reason for the word “tunneling” in the name of the microscope.
The team arranged and shot 242 different alignments of carbon monoxide molecules to make the film.
Last year, our team proved that a bit of data can be stored on a mere 12 iron atoms. Today’s storage devices use about one million atoms per bit. A commercial device with this kind of density would be the size of a thumbnail and could store every movie ever made. Right now that bit is being stored within 12 extremely cold atoms. But as we reach the limits of Moore’s Law, nanotechnology experiments like this will be what keeps compute power – and storage – on pace to double every two years, and perhaps well beyond that.
This article is by Chris Lutz, physicist and research scientist at IBM Research – Almaden.
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