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IBM Research Makes World's Smallest Movie Using Atoms

The Need to Shrink Big Data

Developing the world's smallest movie is not entirely new ground for IBM. For decades, scientists at IBM Research have studied materials at the nanoscale to explore the limits of data storage, among other things.

As computer circuits shrink toward atomic dimensions -- which they have for decades in accordance with Moore's Law -- chip designers are running into physical limitations using traditional techniques. The exploration of unconventional methods of magnetism and the properties of atoms on well-controlled surfaces allows IBM scientists to identify entirely new computing paths.

Using the smallest object available for engineering data storage devices - single atoms - the same team of IBM researchers who made this movie also recently created the world's smallest magnetic bit. They were the first to answer the question of how many atoms it takes to reliably store one bit of magnetic information: 12. By comparison, it takes roughly 1 million atoms to store a bit of data on a modern computer or electronic device. If commercialized, this atomic memory could one day store all of the movies ever made in a device the size of a fingernail.

"Research means asking questions beyond those required to find good short-term engineering solutions to problems. As data creation and consumption continue to get bigger, data storage needs to get smaller, all the way down to the atomic level," continued Heinrich. "We're applying the same techniques used to come up with new computing architectures and alternative ways to store data to making this movie."

IBM and Nanotechnology Leadership

In the company's 101 year history, IBM has invested in scientific research to shape the future of computing. Today's announcement is a demonstration of the results garnered by IBM's world-leading scientists and the company's continual investment in and focus on exploratory research.

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