Data storage technology remains to shrink in size and capacity, but scientists have just taken things to develop to the next level – the scientists built a nanoscale hard drive by using a single atom.
The technology work by magnetizing an atom then cooling it with liquid helium, and storing it in an extreme vacuum, the team managed to store a single bit of data either a 1 or a 0 in this incredibly miniscule space.
Say goodbye to full storage for your holiday photos then, but according to the team from IBM Research in California, this proof-of-concept approach could eventually lead to drives the size of a credit card which could hold the entire iTunes or Spotify libraries, at approximately 30 million songs each.
“We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme – the atomic scale,” says one of the researchers, nanoscientist Christopher Lutz.
The team deployed its Nobel Prize-winning Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) for the experiment, which utilizes the ‘tunnelling phenomenon’ in quantum mechanics, where electrons can be pushed through barriers, to study electronics at the atomic scale.
With the extreme vacuum conditions inside the STM, free from air molecules and other types of contamination, scientists were able to prosperously manipulate a holmium atom.
The microscope additionally applies liquid helium cooling, which is paramount in integrating stability to the magnetic reading and inditing process.
Thanks to that meticulously controlled environment, the team could accurately read and indite two magnetically charged atoms just a single nanometre apart – that’s one millionth the width of a pinhead.
With the avail of the microscope, the scientists could distribute an electric current that turns the magnetic orientation of a single atom up or down, mimicking the operation of a mundane hard drive, but on a much more diminutive scale.
Today’s hard drives use about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit, so you can get a conception of the difference we’re verbalizing about.
The team said that technique could produce drives that are 1,000 times denser than the ones we have right now.
And while the process is going to remain much too difficult and expensive to use commercially for some time, the researchers have shown that it can be done, which is an exciting first step.
his is just the latest in a long line of innovations in data storage – earlier this month researchers from Columbia University announced they’d crammed six digital files into a single speck of DNA.
While there have been previous efforts to store data on single atoms, this is now the smallest and most stable result yet, according to the IBM team.
“The high magnetic stability combined with electrical reading and writing shows that single-atom magnetic memory is indeed possible,” the researchers conclude.
The study has been published in Nature.