Moving Atoms, Making Movies

Americans consume an astounding  4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (4 zettabytes) of electronically transmitted data per year in their spare time, sucking   down over 34 gigabytes of data per day.

Information is stored in formations of zeros and ones. Every single 0 or 1 is a bit. 8 bits is a byte. Try to imagine 4 zettabytes of data:    0110100000110001110010101010010000111110010101010101010111 repeated gazillion times…

Sorry if I sound a bit (or even a byte) patronizing.

It takes roughly ONE MILLION atoms to store a single bit of data on a computer or electronic device.

Recently, IBM Research announced it can now store that same bit of information in just 12 atoms.

From 1,000,000 to 12 — that’s a dramatic breakthrough that not only has the potential to make our computers and devices smaller and more powerful, but also holds enormous implications for the way entire industries operate.

The ability to move single atoms, one of the smallest particles of any element in the universe, is crucial to IBM’s research in the field of atomic-scale memory.

In 2012, IBM scientists announced the creation of the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit, made of just 12 atoms. This breakthrough could transform computing by providing the world with devices that have access to unprecedented levels of data storage.

But even nanophysicists need to have a little fun. In that spirit, the scientists moved atoms by using their scanning tunneling microscope to make … a movie, which has been verified by Guinness World Records™ as The World’s Smallest Stop-Motion Film. (From A Boy And His Atom: The World’s Smallest Movie  IBM).

Granted, the moving atoms in the world’s smallest movie aren’t quite as ostentatiously colorful as the shining image above…atom-0065 or this little fellow playing with his atom.

How to move atoms and make movies? IBM doesn’t make much secret of this as well:

This post is much indebted to the IBM research site.


3 comments on “Moving Atoms, Making Movies

  1. However, there is this rule about Nature hating high entropy, and thus, such data storage will be much more fault intolerant, than say… an old 360KB floppy… Also, the integrity of the structure has to be kept… so you can not store it on chewing gum… if you strech it a bit… it becomes unreadable… because WHERE is that cluster of 12 atoms to read from. And even a small layer of dust will scramble the data beyond readability… imagine a flock of skin (yes, humans shed skin continously) landing on your data… you can not blow it away! If you do, a speck of spit will form tiny globular objects… no no no… please give us back our punchcards!

  2. ps: I already have problems handling those tiny microSD cards… imagine if they get even smaller… have you ever lost a lens (those things you put in your eyes, they replace glasses… although I rather use glasses to drink) or a needle on the carpet…. yes… soon you will leave your nanoSD card somewhere, and someone steals one Zettabyte of information… I tell you… with punchcards… no such luck… you know how heavy one meg of data is in punchcards? They can not steal it even if they wanted to…

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