IBM Research Nanotechnology Could Revolutionalise Data Storage

At present, conventional hard drives use about 1,00,000 atoms to store a single bit of data.

IBM Research scientists have stored a single bit of data on the world’s smallest magnet, which consists of a single atom.

The scientists used a Nobel prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope (invented by IBM) to demonstrate technology, that could someday store infinite amounts of data, onto the size of a debit card.

At present, conventional hard drives use about 1,00,000 atoms to store a single bit of data. The ability to read and write one bit on one atom creates a wealth of possibilities for developing smaller, denser storage devices, that could significantly reduce the amount of hardware needed for heavy data storage.

IBM’s breakthrough comes after 35 years of intense research in nanotechnology. Engineers and scientists demonstrated the reading and writing of one bit of information to the atoms, via the use of an electrical current. In doing so, they showed that two magnetic atoms – the building blocks of their research – could be independently read and written, even when they were separated by a nanometre – a unit of length that is a millionth the width of a human hair.

Christopher Lutz, lead nanoscience researcher at IBM Research We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme – the atomic scale.

He added, "Magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard-disk drives, tape and next-generation magnetic memory."

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Potential for Application

This tight spacing of these atoms could achieve magnetic storage that is 1,000 times denser than today’s solid state memory chips found in millions of computers.

Future applications of these nanostructures – built with control over the position of every atom – could enable people and companies to store 1,000 times more data in the same existing space. They have the potential to make all the digital devices we use on a regular basis, radically smaller and more powerful.

IBM does admit that their research could take a while before it is commercialised.

IBM’s efforts into data compression have produced results in the past, with their ‘Watson’ program standing out as one of their finest developments. It is the question-answering computer system that is able to respond to human commands in their natural language.

It does so by having access to over 40 terabytes of compressed information, enabling it to think, learn and respond like a human being. It has already been applied to aid utilisation management decisions in lung cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York City.

(With inputs from Venturebeat and Engadget)