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Today, data is a fact of our lives and enables much of the technology we rely on. From the smartphone in your pocket to the cities we live in, machines and services are all powered by data. But have you ever thought about where we find the space needed to store all the data that we use? Today’s disk drives use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information, but that may soon change. Scientists at IBM are exploring the limits of data storage and through exploratory research, have demonstrated that as few as 12 magnetic atoms can hold the same amount of data.
This research comes at a time when silicon transistor technology is cheap and efficient, but ultimately physical limitations make it unsustainable to scale. IBM scientists began looking at atoms decades ago after recognizing a need to keep pace with computing developments and the huge demand from consumers and businesses to store and gather data quickly. Taking a bottoms-up approach and looking at atoms as the building blocks for future storage and memory solutions, IBM’s atomic memory could allow about 100 times more information to be stored in the same space as a current disk drive—you could essentially fit every movie ever made on a device as small as a ring.
To get a sense of how powerful (and small) atoms are, here’s a chance to see what they look like in the above stop motion animation. Shot through a scanning tunneling microscope, the video above magnifies atoms 100 million times. Take a look to see atoms in action in the world’s smallest movie, A Boy and His Atom.