Single-atom magnet paves way for denser storage devices

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Single-atom magnet paves way for denser storage devices

A team of IBM researchers have managed to store one bit of data in a single atom, in a breakthrough that could potentially change the way storage devices are developed in the future. With hard drives now using 100,000 atoms to store one bit of data, the new discovery paves the way for the development of storage devices which are notably smaller as well as denser.

If IBM were to scale this Ho storage up to the size of a credit card it would be able to store the entire iTunes catalogue (all 35 million tracks) reports Engadget.

In completing the work, the researchers were able to magnetize individual atoms of holomium - a rare earth element - and use the two poles of magnetism to stand in place for the 1s and 0s.

Increasing density (especially within the same physical footprint) has been a goal of the storage industry for some time now. The IBM Research results announced Wednesday show how much more densely it might someday be possible to cram information.

This means that imbuing individual atoms with a 0 or 1 is the next major step forward and the next major barrier in storing data digitally, both increasing capacity by orders of magnitude and presenting a brand new challenge to engineers and physicists.

The fundamental components of computers are becoming small enough that they are pressing against the boundaries of the familiar world of Newtonian physics.

IBM took the smallest unit of common matter, the atom, and demonstrated that one bit of data could be read or written to by using an electrical current.

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The two magnetic atoms could be read independently, despite being separated by just a single nanometer, the scientists reported. The bit is the most basic piece of information that a computer can understand.

Atomic storage is what some experts called the death of Moore's Law, which states that the data that can be stored on a microchip doubles every 18 months.

Holmium is known to possess magnetic behavior. This is the "read" process. The study was published today in the journal Nature. They applied the current using a metal needle in a scanning tunneling microscope.

A Nobel-prize victor invention by IBM, the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), was used by the scientists of this technology company. The custom microscope operates in extreme vacuum conditions to eliminate interference by air molecules and other contamination.

A quantum sensor designed by the team, consisting of an iron atom, was used to read the memory stored in the holmium atom.

Assuming IBM can ideal and grow this technology at a reasonable cost, it could revolutionize the industry. Some current organizations could have all of their data on one drive with one more for disaster recovery.

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