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Scientists have developed tools to investigate the mysteries of our universe as never before, whether using high powered telescopes to peer at galaxies beyond our own, or specially designed microscopes to pinpoint the millions of molecules on the tip of your finger. From the furthest reaches of space to the tiniest particles on Earth, scientists are pioneering ways to see our world in entirely new ways. In this spirit of discovery, the IBM atomic memory research team have been exploring the limits and capabilities of how atoms—the building blocks of everything on Earth—can be used in unexpected ways. As they study how these tiny particles might be used for storing immense amounts of data in computation and information storage, they decided to make a movie created with atoms—a challenging, never attempted feat to painstakingly move thousands of individual atoms—to show what can be possible in atomic research.
The IBM team created what’s now known as the world’s smallest movie, A Boy and His Atom, which was made by magnifying atoms 100 million times through a scanning tunneling microscope. (To give perspective on the smallness of the scale, if atoms were the size of an orange, magnifying them by 100 million times would make them as large as the Earth). Principal Investigator Andreas Heinrich led the team that produced the movie as they positioned each atom individually to create the images for each frame of the stop-motion animation. After moving the molecules around one at a time, the team took a picture before moving on to the next frame. A chemical reaction allowed them to move the atoms individually and as it was done, the researchers listened for a scratching sound to let them know how many places they’d moved the atom.
Though this film is part of a larger look at atomic memory, the team set a Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest stop-motion film. Watch the video above to take a step inside the lab and see how Heinrich and his team created movie as well as learn more about their research in the field of atomic memory.
Want to find out more about atoms, atomic storage or the making of this film? Now is your chance to ask Andreas Heinrich a question. Post your question in the comments below and we’ll ask it during a special interview with Heinrich. Then make sure to check back at the end of May when we share his answers.