Single-atom Magnet for Denser Storage Devices

Data storage density grows exponentially every year. IBM created the world’s smallest magnet, that could store one bit of data in a single atom. This could lead to storage devices the can hold 100,000 times more data in the same physical space.

A view from IBM Research’s Nobel prize-winning microscope of a single atom of Holmium, an element used as a magnet to store one bit of data. Photo credit: IBM Research – Almaden (San Jose, Calif.)

Hard disk drives store data magnetically, as a series of tiny magnetic dots on a sheet of metal. Each dot represents one bit of data. One or zero, if it is magnetized or demagnetized. Nowadays it is about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit and IBM’s new research could shrink these data-storing units down one atom.

The researchers used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), a device that can manipulate individual atoms in a vacuum, safe from interference by air molecules. It was used a holmium element atoms by applying an electrical current to them, and the team was able to change their magnetic orientation to represent a single bit of data. The information could be individually written and read.

In the future, a magnetic memory system that works with individual atoms, could allow for hard drives and other solid state memory chips that are up to 1,000 times denser than those we use today. The research was published in the journal Nature, and the team explains the study in the video below.

Source: IBM

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