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IBM researchers store a bit on 12 atoms.

IBM researchers have figured out how to store a single bit of data in just 12 atoms. It's quite a feat, as today's computer hard drives require about 1 million atoms per bit.

To set up the tiny storage system, engineers used a scanning tunneling microscope at temperatures near absolute zero. Instead of collecting atoms that spin in the same direction to hold memory, or "ferromagnets," they alternated iron atoms that rotate one way with ones that turn in the opposite direction, arranging them in two rows of six on a copper-nitride surface. That alternating alignment--called antiferromagnetism--kept the atoms from creating a magnetic field that would repel other atoms, allowing researchers to "really pack them right next to each other' study author Andreas Heinrich told


The technique could lead to computers that store much more data than current ones while expending far less energy. But adapting the new technology for mass production is "a huge engineering challenge" that might take another decade to overcome, Heinrich said.

One challenge is the bytes that the scientists assembled were stable for only a few hours at temperatures barely above absolute zero: about 0.5 Kelvin or -458 degrees Fahrenheit.

But while atomic-scale hard drives won't be ready for the mass market anytime soon, Heinrich said larger antiferromagnets could be used in storage devices much sooner, as early as the next five to 10 years.

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Title Annotation:INFO TECHNOLOGY
Publication:Information Management Journal
Article Type:Brief article
Date:May 1, 2012
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