Compare this to the hard drives now in use, which require up to 100,000 atoms to store an equivalent amount of data.
Computers, which read bits of data in a series of 0s and 1s, may eventually be able to store significantly more amounts of data in a much denser fashion. We can imagine a credit card sized hard drive capable of storing the complete iTunes library, that's 35 million songs. Future scanning tunneling microscope studies will investigate the potential of performing quantum information processing using individual magnetic atoms. Recently, they also announced that they had developed a new technique that offered a better way to measure the magnetic field of individual atoms and in a somewhat related development, also announced that they would be offering the world's first commercial "universal" quantum-computing service.
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.
"Magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard-disk drives, tape, and next-generation magnetic memory", Christopher Lutz, nanoscience researcher at IBM's Almaden lab, said in a release. Further, he added that they conducted this research for understanding the effects of shrinking technology to the fundamental extreme - the atomic scale. IBM says they've created the world's smallest magnet. It also includes the invention of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), which won a Nobel-prize.
This could make servers, computers and personal devices radically smaller and more powerful.
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By copying a bit onto an atom via electric current, it is hoped that information could be packed into smaller and smaller dimensions.
The custom microscope operates in extreme vacuum conditions to eliminate interference by air molecules and other contamination, IBM said. 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.
IBM Research had defined the future of IT (Information Technology) for more than seven decades. Until now, it was unknown how few atoms it would take to build a reliable magnetic memory bit.
With a line-up of such achievements, the atomic research too will prove to be another feather of success for IBM Research.
To write data to this data storage device, an incredibly tiny sharp metal needle in the microscope produces an electrical current which induces the atom to flip its orientation so that it becomes either a 0 or a 1.