IBM somehow crammed data into a single atom

IBM somehow crammed data into a single atom

Announced Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, the IBM Research team said it was able to store the data on a single atom for the first time, potentially changing the way digital information is stored and accessed in the future.

The scientists used a Nobel prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope (invented by IBM) to demonstrate technology, that could someday store infinite amounts of data, onto the size of a debit card.

For those who don't pay much attention to the wizardry going on inside their computer, hard disk drives store data magnetically, as a series of tiny magnetic dots on a sheet of metal. Although they're already pretty small, IBM's new research could shrink these data-storing units down from about 100,000 atoms each to just one. The demonstration of magnetic bistability in single molecule magnets containing one rare earth atom illustrated the potential of single-atom spin centers in future storage media. With IBM's technique, you could fit Apple's entire music catalog of 26 million songs onto the same area, Big Blue said. Further, he added that they conducted this research for understanding the effects of shrinking technology to the fundamental extreme - the atomic scale.

"Magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard-disk drives, tape and next-generation magnetic memory", Christopher Lutz, lead nanoscience researcher at IBM Research in Almaden, San Jose, California, said in the statement.

The world's smallest magnet, similar to a magnet on a refrigerator, also has a north and south magnetic pole, but it consists of just a single atom of the element holmium. The answer is a single atom.

This means that imbuing individual atoms with a 0 or 1 is the next major step forward and the next major barrier in storing data digitally, both increasing capacity by orders of magnitude and presenting a brand new challenge to engineers and physicists.

Atomic storage is what some experts called the death of Moore's Law, which states that the data that can be stored on a microchip doubles every 18 months. Using this technique, as well as tunnel magnetoresistance, the researchers saw that holmium maintains the same magnetic state stably over several hours. Scientists can then measure the magnetic current passing though the atom to determine whether its value is "1" or "0".

Though commercially available storage may never get to one bit per atom, it's important to study density and small features in hardware as chip manufacturing flirts with its limits, Lutz said. However, this left the question as to how it would be possible to read from and write information to these single-atom magnets in ways that resemble conventional hard disc drives. The high magnetic stability combined with electrical reading and writing shows that single-atom magnetic memory is indeed possible.

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