Two Nanotechnology Breakthroughs from IBM: Single-Atom Data Storage and Molecular Computers

IBM Unveils Two Major Nanotechnology Breakthroughs as Building Blocks for Atomic Structures and Devices – Magnetic Atom Milestone Brings Single-Atom Data Storage Closer to Reality; Single-Molecule Switching Could Lead to Molecular Computers. ‘IBM announced two major scientific achievements in the field of nanotechnology that could one day lead to new kinds of devices and structures built from a few atoms or molecules.

Although still far from making their way into products, these breakthroughs will enable scientists at IBM and elsewhere to continue driving the field of nanotechnology, the exploration of building structures and devices out of ultra-tiny, atomic-scale components. Such devices might be used as future computer chips, storage devices, sensors and for applications nobody has imagined yet. The work will be unveiled tomorrow in two reports being published by the journal Science.

In the first report, IBM scientists describe major progress in probing a property called magnetic anisotropy in individual atoms. This fundamental measurement has important technological consequences because it determines an atom’s ability to store information. Previously, nobody had been able to measure the magnetic anisotropy of a single atom.
With further work it may be possible to build structures consisting of small clusters of atoms, or even individual atoms, that could reliably store magnetic information. Such a storage capability would enable nearly 30,000 feature length movies or the entire contents of YouTube – millions of videos estimated to be more than 1,000 trillion bits of data – to fit in a device the size of an iPod. Perhaps more importantly, the breakthrough could lead to new kinds of structures and devices that are so small they could be applied to entire new fields and disciplines beyond traditional computing.

In the second report, IBM researchers unveiled the first single-molecule switch that can operate flawlessly without disrupting the molecule’s outer frame – a significant step toward building computing elements at the molecular scale that are vastly smaller, faster and use less energy than today’s computer chips and memory devices.
In addition to switching within a single molecule, the researchers also demonstrated that atoms inside one molecule can be used to switch atoms in an adjacent molecule, representing a rudimentary logic element. This is made possible partly because the molecular framework is not disturbed.’

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