IBM says it has managed to store data on a single atom. The research, which was conducted at IBM’s Almaden lab in Silicon Valley, was published in scientific journal Nature on Wednesday. The finding could potentially change the way we store data in the future.
To put things in perspective, a hard drive takes about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit of data - a bit is comprised of 1 or 0. In comparison, IBM claims that it can reduce it to a single atom to store one bit of data. This theoretically means that you could cram an entire catalogue of iTunes’ 35 million songs into a storage medium as big as a credit card. Or you could carry your entire personal data in a smartwatch.
IBM’s research has found a way to magnetise individual atoms of the element holmium. The two poles of magnetism stand in for 1s and 0s. The holmium atoms are attached to a surface of magnesium oxide, which holds them in place at 5 kelvin, Quartz reports . The researches could then pass an electrical current through the holmium atoms, causing their poles to flip. The atom poles in their fixed state can then allow researchers to measure each atom as 1s or 0s using a single iron atom. This essentially replicates the writing and reading information on a magnetic hard drive.
“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. “We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme - the atomic scale.”
The finding is but a stepping stone in discovering the possibilities of atomic-computing. It remains to be seen if this method is feasible and affordable to think large scale. It will also need to be seen how computer chip manufacturers plan to scale the technology.
In today’s day and age, there’s never enough storage to keep us satisfied. IBM’s research imagines a future where storage issues do not exist and where you’ll never have to feel the need to delete the old to make room for the new.