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One Bit, One Atom

March 9, 2017.

One Bit, One Atom.

A single holmium atom supported on a magnesium oxide plate, in contact with an iron sensor atom. © IBS/IBM.

In 2012, IBM succeeded in storing one bit (a 0 or 1 value) on just 12 atoms. Today, IBM researchers have reached the final frontier of magnetic storage media: one bit, one atom. An article in Nature explains: the team built a structure with two holmium atoms mounted on a magnesium oxide plate, to which the 4 possible states were written (00, 01, 10, 00). This new atomic storage technology would allow for the storing of the entire Apple iTunes library (35 million songs) on a surface the size of a credit card. Current magnetic structures require about 100,000 atoms to hold a single bit of information.

Moore’s Law predicted that the amount of data stored on a processor would double every 18 months; it held true for decades. However, as processors became miniaturized, then atomized, quantum disruptions destabilized their structure. Interestingly, holmium atoms seem impervious to such disruptions, for reasons still unknown. In fact, holmium atoms can be packed tight with no quantum disruptions, allowing for extraordinary storage capacity.

Nature, “Reading and writing single-atom magnets.”

Phys.org, “IBM researchers create world’s smallest magnet.”