How IBM turned a single atom into a tiny hard drive

How IBM turned a single atom into a tiny hard drive

How IBM turned a single atom into a tiny hard drive

An worldwide team of researchers working at IBMs' San Jose research facility announced recently that they had created the world's smallest magnet-it was made from a single atom.

IBM has been investing heavily in scanning tunneling microscope research for decades, a technology they have been credited with inventing (Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer won the Nobel Prize in physics for this accomplishment back in 1986). Modern hard drives use about one hundred thousand atoms to store one bit of data, but with this research, scientists got that number down to just one bit of data per atom.

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IBM researchers have demonstrated the ability to store a bit of data on a single atom, the company announced on Thursday. This proves that the experiment truly creates a lasting, stored magnetic state in a single atom that can be detected indirectly. This is the ultimate storage feat - one bit on one magnetic atom. It also plans to use the scanning tunneling microscope to investigate quantum information processing by leveraging individual magnetic atoms. Further, he added that they conducted this research for understanding the effects of shrinking technology to the fundamental extreme - the atomic scale.

The last big transformation in storage was the shift from the spinning magnetic platters of hard drives to flash memory, chips that can read and write data faster and that have no moving parts to wear out.

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In completing the work, the researchers were able to magnetize individual atoms of holomium - a rare earth element - and use the two poles of magnetism to stand in place for the 1s and 0s. Once they confirmed that the atom was indeed changing its magnetic state, they set an iron atom down nearby, and based on the reaction of the atom, they could tell which magnetic state it was in at the time - essentially the equivalent as storing a 0 or a 1 in terms of data. A special-purpose microscope uses a tiny amount of electrical current to flip the atom's orientation one way or the other, corresponding to writing a 1 or 0. With the help of STM, they built and measured the isolated single atom bits using holmium atoms.

IBM managed to cram a data in a single atom; it's a direction that's not yet practical, but data storage is headed that way nevertheless, CNET reported. About seven days ago, IBM also made the announcement regarding its plans to construct the first quantum computers for commercial and scientific purposes.

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To achieve this breakthrough, the scientists determined that it is possible to independently read and write two magnetic atoms even if they are separated by a nanometre - i.e. a distance that is only a millionth of the width of a pin head.

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