IBM makes data storage breakthrough

Information can now be stored in a few atoms instead of hundreds

Tags: IBM (www.ibm.com)Research and development
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IBM makes data storage breakthrough IBM researchers have discovered a way to store data on just a few atoms instead of hundreds. (Getty Images)
By  Georgina Enzer Published  January 17, 2012

Information can now be stored in as few as 12 magnetic atoms, significantly less than today's disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single piece of information, according to IBM.

Scientists from IBM Research have successfully manipulated matter by its most basic form, atom by atom, to store information; this could lead to the vital understanding necessary to build smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices.

According to IBM, silicon transistor technology is becoming unsustainable due to its physical limitations, even as it has become cheaper, denser and more efficient. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the rapid pace of computing innovation.

IBM scientists demonstrated magnetic storage that is at least 100 times denser than today's hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.

Future applications of nanostructures built one atom at a time, and that apply an unconventional form of magnetism called antiferromagnetism, could allow people and businesses to store 100 times more information in the same space.

"The chip industry will continue its pursuit of incremental scaling in semiconductor technology but, as components continue to shrink, the march continues to the inevitable end point: the atom. We're taking the opposite approach and starting with the smallest unit, single atoms, to build computing devices one atom at a time," said Andreas Heinrich, the lead investigator into atomic storage at IBM Research - Almaden, in California.

According to IBM, the scientists at IBM Research used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to atomically engineer a grouping of twelve antiferromagnetically coupled atoms that stored a bit of data for hours at low temperatures. Taking advantage of their inherent alternating magnetic spin directions, they demonstrated the ability to pack adjacent magnetic bits much closer together than was previously possible. This greatly increased the magnetic storage density without disrupting the state of neighbouring bits.

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