IBM Successfully Uses Magnetism to Encode Data on a Single Atom

Mar 10, 2017 03:42 AM EST

Researchers from IBM, together with an international team of scientists, have managed to find a way to store and read data using single-atom magnets.

Their discovery, described in a paper published in the journal Nature, is more of a proof of concept and probably won't be commercially available in the near future. However, the success of their research has great implications in the world of computing technology.

"This work is not product development, but rather it is basic research intended to develop tools and understanding of what happens as we miniaturize devices down toward the ultimate limit of individual atom," said Christopher Lutz, a researcher at IBM and one of the co-authors of the paper, in a report from CNET.

Lutz said that they are planning to invent new information technologies, and individual atoms are just the start.

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For their research, the IBM team used a single atom of the rare earth element, holmium, which was carefully embedded in magnesium oxide. The researchers then used a special-purpose microscope and a very accurate and small needle to pass an electric current to the holmium's atom and flip its orientation. The flipping of the atom's orientation, from north to south or south to north, corresponds to writing 1s and 0s.

The researchers then measured the electromagnetic properties of the holmium atom to read the data they have encoded. Results show that the holmium atoms were able to maintain their given field orientation for a long time without flipping -- a strong indication that the atoms could be used as a good storage system.

Despite the study's success, the researchers noted that it might take a long time before they start cramming data into atoms. For starters, their experiment with the holmium atom was conducted at -450 degrees Fahrenheit. Warming up the surface into room temperature can make the atoms diffuse.

Aside from the temperature issues, the magnetic tape used to flip the orientation of the atoms is needed to be extremely precise. The researchers warned unwarranted jostle or vibration could screw up the ability to write and read data.

Read Also: Scientists Create New Form of Matter: 'Supersolids' Are Solid and Liquid at the Same Time 

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