Storing Data in Single-Atom Magnets

10 March, 2017, 00:07 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • IBM used a scanning tunneling microscope to store one bit on the world's smallest magnet

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 breakthrough builds on 35 years of nanotechnology history at IBM, including the invention of the Nobel prize-winning scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) which was used to create the atomic hard drive. Given that modern hard drives need about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit, this development could shrink the size of future storage mediums by an order of magnitude.

The ability to read and write one bit of data on one atom creates new possibilities for developing smaller and denser storage devices, according to IBM. The microscope also uses liquid helium for cooling that allows the atoms to retain their magnetic orientations long enough to be written and read reliably. If a technique could be found to commercialize their single-atom approach, they further note, it would allow for holding something as massive as Apple's iTunes library of songs on something as small as a credit card.

Holmium atoms have also got another important characteristic: They can be packed very closely together, which could pave the wave for tiny high-density storage systems. Studies by the scanning tunneling microscope will investigate the potential to perform information processing with the help of individual magnetic atoms. But magnetic storage, the technique already used in tapes, disk drives, and flash, has the advantage of being solid state, so it doesn't require moving atoms around, said Christopher Lutz, the nanosciences researcher who led the IBM project. Computers, data hubs and personal gizmos can be made so small that they nearly seem to disappear on the material scale of magnitude. Of course, this type of research doesn't yield consumer products right out of the gate, and it will likely be years before we see what devices, if any, can actually make use of this new, radically dense storage technology. The IBM researchers used the needle point of a powerful microscope to pass the electrical current towards the holmium atoms.

House Republicans Unveil ACA Replacement Plan, Eliminating Obamacare's Taxes and Mandates
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Given that all magnets have two poles, their orientation can be used to determine whether an atom is a 0 or a 1.

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. This is the ultimate storage feat - one bit on one magnetic atom.

The boffins show that two magnetic atoms could be written and read independently when separated by one nanometer.

IBM had a quantum computer announcement earlier this week.


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