Published: Fri, March 10, 2017
Science | By Boyd Webster

IBM researchers store data on individual atoms, could revolutionize hard drives

IBM researchers store data on individual atoms, could revolutionize hard drives

A Nobel-prize victor invention by IBM, the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), was used by the scientists of this technology company.

BOFFINS AT IBM claim to have developed a technique to store and retrieve data from a single atom.

Computers, which read bits of data in a series of 0s and 1s, may eventually be able to store significantly more amounts of data in a much denser fashion.

Using these methods, the scientists showed how the magnetic remanence of single atoms can be used to store information in them.

There is a possibility that the entire iTunes library (which comprises 35 million songs) can be stored on a device no bigger than a credit card.

As memory devices are becoming increasingly smaller, it was hypothesized whether the elementary storage unit could one day be as small as a single atom.

In this study, researchers worked with a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM), which has a tip that enables the user to view and move individual atoms, as well as to apply a pulse of electrical current. Further, he added that they conducted this research for understanding the effects of shrinking technology to the fundamental extreme - the atomic scale.

Now researchers can use what IBM learned to develop new high-density storage that works outside a lab, probably using a small number of atoms that can help each other remain stable at room temperature, Lutz said.

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.

Electronics get faster, smaller, and (hopefully) more reliable as time passes, but the march towards the miniature only has one logical place to end, and that's at the atomic level. Researchers were able to read the orientation of the atom using a single iron atom that was able to measure the holmium atom's magnetic field.

IBM Research had defined the future of IT (Information Technology) for more than seven decades.

IBM successfully stored data inside a single atom, paving way to what the future of data storage can look like. The STM also uses liquid helium for cooling that allows the atoms to retain their magnetic orientations long enough to be written and read. About seven days ago, IBM also made the announcement regarding its plans to construct the first quantum computers for commercial and scientific purposes.

This means that imbuing individual atoms with a 0 or 1 is the next major step forward and the next major barrier in storing data digitally, both increasing capacity by orders of magnitude and presenting a brand new challenge to engineers and physicists.

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