Magnetic storage systems shrink from a million atoms per bit to twelve

Researchers at I.B.M.’s Almaden Research Center have used a scanning tunneling microscope to assemble an array of 96 iron atoms into an antiferromagnetic structure that encodes one byte (eight bits) of information. As reported in the NY Times by John Markoff “New storage device is very small, at 12 atoms“:

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Researchers at I.B.M. have stored and retrieved digital 1s and 0s from an array of just 12 atoms, pushing the boundaries of the magnetic storage of information to the edge of what is possible.

The findings, being reported Thursday in the journal Science, could help lead to a new class of nanomaterials for a generation of memory chips and disk drives that will not only have greater capabilities than the current silicon-based computers but will consume significantly less power. And they may offer a new direction for research in quantum computing. …

The group at I.B.M.’s Almaden Research Center here, led by Andreas Heinrich, has now created the smallest possible unit of magnetic storage by painstakingly arranging two rows of six iron atoms on a surface of copper nitride. …

Although the research took place at a temperature near absolute zero, the scientists wrote that the same experiment could be done at room temperature with as few as 150 atoms. …

The remainder of the article quotes Dr. Heinrich as saying that these tiny devices built with scanning tunneling microscopes are primarily of interest as a way to explore the quantum mechanical properties of the antiferromagnetic effect in the hope of developing novel nanomaterials that might lead to quantum computers. He also noted that many research groups are exploring self-assembly methods that could lead to practical manufacturing technologies to replace current microelectronic technologies.

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