IBM scientists have worked out a way to store a single bit of data on a 12-atom surface in what they are calling the world’s smallest magnetic storage device.
It will take decades before the breakthrough can be used on a memory stick but it does show the way the world will be going when it comes to storage.
So far, physicists have had a problem with quantum mechanics which made it impossible to reliably store data. If you link eight atoms, you can’t get a stable magnetic state, probably because some potentially dead or alive cat tends to chase the atoms into a corner.
Andreas Heinrich, an IBM researcher, said that the system will just spontaneously hop from one of those states to another state in a timescale that is too fast for data storage.
Apparently it is difficult to store pornography when the data is switching at thousands of times per second. It is also difficult to keep neighbouring bits of data from interfering with each other.
IBM’s 12-atom bit-keeper uses an antiferromagnetic structure, which makes the atoms point in opposite directions and stops them from getting in the way of each other.
Heinrich said that in an antiferromagnet there is no big spin, and so you can put the atoms very close together.
The downside of it all is that everything operates at a degree kelvin and no one has a clue how to build something this small outside of the lab. You can read more about IBM’s work here.