Monatomic magnets to create next-generation data storage devices

IBM engineers created the world's smallest magnet not out of creative interest, but for practical purposes. They tried to figure out what the minimum physical volume can be squeezed into a single memory cell - one bit. And after a long game with a tunnel microscope, we got to the level of a single atom.

In general terms, memory in electronic gadgets is arranged as a chain of "points" that can store a permanent magnetic charge. A magnetized cell is interpreted as "1", empty is "0", and their sequence is added to a simple, reliable binary code. This is how old magnetic tape drives, existing HDDs and next generation memory work.

Christopher Lutz, head of the research team at IBM, said: "We wanted to understand what would happen if you minimize memory cells to the fundamental level of one atom."

Christopher Lutz and the tunnel microscope

The test subjects were particles of the rare earth element holmium, which were separated into atoms in a vacuum. Having magnetized them separately, scientists were delighted - particles located at a distance of only 1 nanometer from each other retain a different charge!

This means that with the right equipment, arbitrary code can be written and read. Here it is, the concept of a new generation memory cell based on a monoatomic magnet. Its capacity is at least 1000 times higher than that of the best current samples.

To illustrate the growth of memory density by three orders of magnitude at once while maintaining the dimensions of the drive, you can do the following: for example, the entire iTunes library, about 35 million songs, will fit on an "atomic flash drive" the size of a credit card.

Now the matter is "small" - to develop a technology for interaction with individual atoms in the format of a cheap, mass gadget. A kind of new type of floppy drive, no more than $ 9.99.