IBM Puts 1 Bit Of Data On A Single Atom

IBM somehow crammed data into a single atom

Using scanning tunneling microscope, scientists built and measured isolated single-atom bits leveraging the holmium atoms.

About the project, he said: 'Magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard-disk drives, tape and next-generation magnetic memory.

The ability to read and write one bit on one atom creates "new possibilities for developing smaller and denser storage devices", said the company.

This means that a device the size of a credit card could store up to 35 million iTunes songs. This special microscope had many applications and one of them was building and measuring single-atom bits via holmium. They placed holmium atoms on magnesium oxide and then used a scanning tunneling microscope to apply an electric current to the individual atoms.

'We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme - the atomic scale'. A magnetic storage media so created can be around 1000 times denser than the SSDs and hard disk drives we now use.

A Press Release by IBM states that it has created the world's smallest magnet.

Atoms, it may not surprise you to hear, are pretty much the smallest unit of matter that we can manipulate reliably and expect to stay still. 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. 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. They were also able to demonstrate that two magnetic atoms can be read and written on their own, even when they are separated by one nanometer.

Computer hard drives use magnets - which are made up of atoms - to store information. Holmium's electrons and their close proximity to its core give each atom more stability than is typical, and allow it to be used to store a single bit of data.

Given that all magnets have two poles, their orientation can be used to determine whether an atom is a 0 or a 1.

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. Recently, they also announced that they had developed a new technique that offered a better way to measure the magnetic field of individual atoms and in a somewhat related development, also announced that they would be offering the world's first commercial "universal" quantum-computing service.

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