Imagine that you could store Itunes library of 35 million songs in a device not larger than a credit card? Sound impressive and thanks to IBM research possible in the near future.

What a remarkable achievement for data storage technology have managed to accomplish IBM Research. They just invented the world’s thinnest magnet using a single atom and stored one bit of data on it. To get the closer picture how this invention is incredible, today’s hard disk drives use about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit. Moreover, current commercially-available magnetic memory devices require approximately one million atoms to do the same. Now by clubbing together, scientists from Center for Quantum Nanoscience within the Institute of Basic Science ( IBS, South Korea ) and IBM made the breakthrough in the miniaturization of data storage technology.

IBM scientists Chris Lutz, Bruce Melior, Kai Yang and Philip Willke (L to R) used an IBM-invented, Nobel prize-winning microscope to create the world’s smallest magnet from an atom to store one bit of data. Image Credit: IBM

Nobel Prize Invention From the 80s Helped To Create Single Atom Memory

In 1986 IBM research won the Nobel Prize for inventing the Scanning Tunneling Microscope used to view and move single atoms. Invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, the STM was an important part of physics and microelectronics. More than 30 years later, scientists used the microscope to deliver an electrical current that turns the magnetic direction in a single atom up or down and freezes it in place.

According to one of the team members, Christopher Lutz they wanted to see what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme – the atom scale. How they achieve to do that, researchers explained: To demonstrate independent reading and writing, we built an atomic-scale structure with two Holmium bits, to which we write the four possible states and which we read out both magnetoresistive and remotely by electron spin resonance. The high magnetic stability combined with electrical reading and writing shows that single-atom magnetic memory is indeed possible.

A view from IBM Research’s Nobel prize-winning microscope of a single atom of Holmium, a rare earth element used as a magnet to store one bit of data. Image Credit: IBM

Moore’s Law As An Obstacle

In 1965 an American businessman Gordon Moore gave a famous insight which is today considered as a golden rule of the electronics industry and it’s known as Moore’s Law. He predicted that the amount of data that can be stored on a microchip would double every 18 months ( which later proved accurate ). As devices become smaller and smaller since atoms are so close to each other, new interfering quantum properties begin to manifest and cause problems finally leading to the impossibility of keeping up with further miniaturization.

Holmium atoms seems to escape Moore’s prediction as there are no quantum mechanical effects between atoms for now

On the other side, the holmium atom, used for IBM research, didn’t show the sign of Moore’s predicted fate and scientist now want to know why. For now, the fact is that holmium atoms can be arranged very closely together, which opens the high possibility for single atom memory storage.