IBM Just Discovered a Way to Put Data on an Atom, Landmark Research Shows

March 9, 2017 11:42 am
(IBM/Stan Olszewski)
(IBM/Stan Olszewski)
(IBM/Stan Olszewski)
IBM researcher Christopher Lutz used this Nobel Prize-winning microscope to track the atomic hard drive. (IBM/Stan Olszewski)


IBM just took a major step forward in the way humans store information at a minuscular level.

For the first time ever, the computing giant has demonstrated a way to put data on a single atom, in a paper published this week in Nature.

The groundbreaking research has significant future implications for how we store data, and would make any device with a storage drive—like computers and smartphones—much thinner and lighter. A digital catalog of 35 million songs, for example, could be stored on a credit-card sized drive, Quartz reports.

IBM’s concept basically translates the language of 0s and 1s that computers speak into atoms by magnetizing them. IBM researchers applied the principals of a hard drive, which has two polar ends like North and South, to individual atoms of holmium. The rare element naturally creates a strong magnetic field and its atoms stay in which ever pole they’ve been switched to.

While the research team created an atomic hard drive that only stores 2 bits of info, the concept could be scaled up to condense hard drives by 1,000 times. “You can now play around with these single-atom magnets, using them like Legos, to build up magnetic structures from scratch,” the paper’s author Fabian Natterer told Nature.


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