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Will the Atomic Storage by IBM Create Nano-Storage Devices in Future?

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IBM built an atomic hard drive

Now, in another huge step toward making these storage media smaller, researchers at IBM announced Wednesday that they had managed to store a single bit of data - a 1 or a 0 - on one atom. Modern hard drives use about one hundred thousand atoms to store one bit of data, but with this research, scientists got that number down to just one bit of data per atom. The company said the discovery makes it conceivable to store an entire library of 35 million songs on a device no bigger than a credit card.

The researchers use a scanning tunneling microscope (also invented at IBM, in the '80s) to apply about 150 millivolts at 10 microamps to the atom - it doesn't sound like a lot, but at that scale, it's like a lightning strike.

IBM had a quantum computer announcement earlier this week. To read the state of the holmium bits, the scientists relied on a phenomenon called "tunnel magnetoresistance", which enabled them to see the direction of the Ho atom's magnetization. Although it's not exactly the first time that scientists and researchers used atom's location store data, it's the first time that magnetic storage has been accomplished successfully.

'We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme - the atomic scale'. Computers, data hubs and personal gizmos can be made so small that they nearly seem to disappear on the material scale of magnitude. Today's breakthrough builds on 35 years of nanotechnology history at IBM, including the invention of the Nobel prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope. To write to this storage system, a microscopic needle induces a current to flip the atom's orientation. They have used a single atom as a single computer bit. The custom microscope operates in extreme vacuum conditions to eliminate interference by air molecules and other contamination. It also uses liquid helium for the cooling process. According to TechCrunch, they took a single Holmium atom (a large atom that contains several unpaired electrons) and placed it on a magnesium oxide bed, giving it magnetic bistability, meaning it has two stable magnetic states with different spins.

While commercial applications are unlikely to emerge overnight, it does represent a quantum leap in data storage technology and shows great promise for the future.

"This work is not product development, but rather it is basic research meant to develop tools and understanding of what happens as we miniaturize devices down toward the ultimate limit of individual atom", Lutz said. Six Nobel Laureates have been created from this segment of the tech giant.

With a line-up of such achievements, the atomic research too will prove to be another feather of success for IBM Research.

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