IBM Creates World's Smallest Magnet Using Single Atom To Store Data

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IBM has announced that its researchers have created the smallest magnet in the world by using one bit of data stored on a single atom!

Using a scanning tunneling microscope, researchers were able to induce an electric charge and flip the orientation of the holmium atom. 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 on one atom creates "new possibilities for developing smaller and denser storage devices", said the company.

To read those values, IBM then used a single iron atom to measure the magnetic current passing through the atom.

IBM said an example of the smaller drives could be a credit-card-sized device which can store "the entire iTunes library of 35 million songs". Future scanning tunneling microscope studies will investigate the potential of performing quantum information processing using individual magnetic atoms.

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"To demonstrate independent reading and writing, we built an atomic-scale structure with two Holmium bits, to which we write the four possible states and which we read out both magneto-resistively and remotely by electron spin resonance", claim the researchers in their paper. This paves the way for magnetic storage which would be 1,000 times denser that the current hard drives. Additionally, with a one-bit-per-atom ratio, such a system could also store significantly more data which could pave the way for smaller datacentres, computers, and mobile devices, IBM said.

When everyone is talking about solid-state or some other kind of memory alternative (that lasts 1000 years) for the magnetic hard drives, a new research announced by IBM can save this magnet-based storage media from becoming extinct. "The ultimate end of Moore's Law is a single atom".

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. This helps the atoms in retaining their magnetic orientations long enough to be read and written reliably. Big Blue's basic research into atomic-scale storage could be decades away from commercialization, said IBM researcher Chris Lutz.

IBM magnetized individual atoms the element called holmium and used north and south poles of magnetism as stand in for 1s and 0s. A promising successor to flash could be resistive random-access memory (ReRAM), which could store data more densely than flash by changing how well a tiny metallic filament conducts electricity. About seven days ago, IBM also made the announcement regarding its plans to construct the first quantum computers for commercial and scientific purposes.

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