The smallest hard drive that you know is probably not what it is – because now, researchers have made it possible to turn an atom into the world’s smallest hard drive.
Yup, just a single atom. Scientists from the IBM research in California developed this proof-of-concept approach which could mean that one day, the entire iTunes or Spotify libraries, containing about 30 million songs each, can fit in drives the size of a credit card.
Storing a single bit of data, which is a 1 or a 0, in an atom was done through magnetizing the atom, cooling it with helium and storing it in an extreme vacuum.
The researchers used the Scanning Tunneling Microscope, a Nobel Prize-winning instrument, to push electrons through their barriers and study electronics at the atomic scale.
Specifically, it was used to manipulate a holmium atom to be free from air molecules and other types of contamination, and add stability to the magnetic reading and writing process by applying liquid helium cooling.
It was also made possible to deliver an electric current that turns the magnetic orientation of a single atom up or down. That essentially follows the operation of a normal hard drive, only on an atomic level.
This is the first time that a nanoscale hard drive is fit inside a single atom – a thousand times denser than the conventional hard drive.
Nanoscientist Christopher Lutz, one of the researchers, said that this experiment was conducted to understand what happens when ‘you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme – the atomic scale’.
“The high magnetic stability combined with electrical reading and writing shows that single-atom magnetic memory is indeed possible,” the researchers wrote.
While it is still far for this technology for public consumption, the researchers have shown that this can be done. They are now working on making this commercially available so that we have better, flexible data storage options in the future.
Source: Science Alert