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March 9, 2017

IBM stores one bit of data on a single atom

The breakthrough builds on 35 years of nanotechnology history at IBM.

By CBR Staff Writer

A team of IBM researchers have managed to store one bit of data in a single atom, in a breakthrough that could potentially change the way storage devices are developed in the future.

The research carried out at IBM’s Almaden lab in Silicon Valley was published in the scientific journal Nature.

Hard disks use almost 100,000 atoms to store one bit of data at present. IBM has managed to store the same amount of data on a single atom.

The scientists used an IBM-invented, Nobel prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope to demonstrate technology that could someday store the entire iTunes library of 35 million songs in a credit card sized storage device.

IBM said the ability to read and write one bit of data on one atom creates new possibilities for developing smaller and denser storage devices.

Single Atom Microscope feature photographed at IBM Research Almaden campus in San Jose, California, on February 28, 2017. (Stan Olszewski/SOSKIphoto)

Scientists were able to read and write a single bit of data to an atom using electrical current. 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.

IBM said that the tight spacing could eventually yield magnetic storage that is 1,000 times denser than the existing hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.

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The company noted that future applications of nanostructures built with control over the position of every atom could enable people and businesses to store 1,000 times more data in the same space, someday making data centres, computers and personal devices radically smaller and more powerful.

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

“We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme — the atomic scale.”

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

The custom microscope operates in extreme vacuum conditions to eliminate interference by air molecules and other contamination, IBM said.

Liquid helium was used for cooling, enabling the atoms to retain their magnetic orientations for a considerable amount of time to be written and read reliably.

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