In what could completely revolutionize the way information is stored, IBM scientists have managed to store data in a single atom. The discovery, which was first published in the scientific journal Nature, describes that IBM researchers have been able to store a bit or information (1 or 0) on a single atom.
Currently, hard drives use 100,000 atoms to store 1 bit of information. This latest discovery can increase hard-drive storage density by 1,000 times, says Fabian Natterer, author of the research paper. That’s like storing all the songs available on iTunes or Spotify, in just one hard drive.
“It’s a landmark achievement,” Sander Otte, a physicist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, told Nature.
To do this, the researchers placed an atom of a rare-earth element, holonium, on a sheet magnesium oxide. Since holonium has many unpaired electrons in an orbit close to the atom’s centre, they are shielded from the environment. This provides it a large and stable magnetic field.
To write data, the scientists fired a pulse of electric current using the magnetized tip of scanning tunnelling microscope. This flipped its magnetic north & south poles replicating the storage of binary data on a magnetic hard drive. They used the same microscope to read the data by measuring the different current flows that indicate the atom’s magnetic state.
The researchers plan to explore if atoms of other elements, groups of atoms, and even small molecules can be used to store information. They also plan to see if it can replace the electric currents within devices, since atoms can move information within a device.
This would not lead to extremely compact data storage but also lead to energy efficient devices.