Imagine a pocket-sized hard drive capable of storing the entire list of 35 Million Songs?
This isn't yet practical, but IBM has just taken a big step towards improving computing technology: IBM researchers just discovered a way to store data on a single atom.
Data storage is undergoing dramatic evolution, recently researchers successfully stored digital data
— an entire operating system, a movie, an Amazon gift card, a study and a computer virus — in strands of DNA.
The IBM Research results announced Wednesday that the researchers have developed the world's smallest magnet using a single atom and they packed it with one bit of digital data.
Currently, hard drives use about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit of information — a 1 or 0 — using traditional methods.
So, this breakthrough could allow people to store 1,000 times more information in the same amount of space in the future applications.
The discovery, which was described in the journal Nature
, builds on 35 years of nanotechnology history at IBM, including their Nobel prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope (STM) that was used to build the atomic hard drive.
The scientists used a single atom of the rare earth element holmium and carefully placed it on a surface of magnesium oxide, which makes its north and south poles hold in a stable direction. The two stable magnetic orientations define the 1 and 0 of the bit.
The researchers then used a very accurate, sharp, and small, needle to pass an electrical current through the holmium atoms that flips its north and south poles, thus replicating the process of writing binary data (1s and 0s) to a traditional magnetic hard drive.
The researchers then read the data by measuring the electromagnetic properties of the atom at a later point. They also demonstrated that two magnetic atoms could be written and read independently even if they're separated by just one nanometer.
"Magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard disk drives, tape, and next-generation magnetic memory," Christopher Lutz, IBM nanoscience researcher said in a statement. "We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme—the atomic scale."
For more insight into the project, you can check out IBM's video given below:
For more practical illustration, researchers say a system using the tiny magnets could potentially someday store all the songs on the iTunes music library — that's 35 million songs — on a hard drive the size of a credit card.
Future applications of nanostructures built with control over every atom could someday make data centers, computers, and other personal devices radically smaller and more powerful.
The practical development of these methods, of course, is far out in the future and could take a while to commercialize it.