back to article Big Blue boffins cram information onto a cool 12 atoms

Boffins at IBM Research's Almaden centre have stored one bit in 12 atoms - creating a memory that's 150 times denser than NAND flash. They used the anti-ferromagnetism phenomenon to order the 12 atoms in a stable group that retained its properties for several hours, and wasn't influenced by neighbouring groups. A byte needs 96 …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it's real. The first time back in the 90's was proven to be false.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon


      Are you referring to the IBM lettering in atoms that were manually arranged rather than by some process?

  2. Silverburn

    Interesting stuff. I wonder if all that iron will makes the drives heavy, or prone to rust at all?

    <-- look again in case you missed it.

    1. Aaron Em

      No more so than you're used to

      Make sure to give it a good scrub with steel wool once a year or so, just like you're used to doing with typical HDD platters today, and you'll be fine.

  3. M7S

    Does this make the data more vulnerable?

    If a bit is stored on a correspondingly smaller number of atoms (assuming that this research leads to a product, although I note the delay suggested in the article) does this mean that that data could be corrupted by a weaker external force such as, for example, a magnetic field? I'm not suggesting that more atoms gives any kind of RAID type redundancy, but perhaps a larger group or atoms it might be less of a "moveable object" by comparison to the smaller group, or be able to lose a single atom without ill effect, the relative propotions being different.

    Would that mean that any protective case might need therefore to be stronger/heavier to compensate for our increasingly EM-rich environment? Also in relationt this I have no idea if the casing around most HDDs functions as a Faraday cage. Perhaps an appropriately educated person could enlighten me on these questions.

  4. Graham O'Brien
    Thumb Up


    ... not the new technology, but the fact that existing, working, reliable tech is only a couple of orders of magnitude less dense than this exotic new stuff. I really am impressed.

  5. annodomini2

    Worlds smallest SSD

    Boffin: "Great we've made this 4TB SSD that fits in a microsd housing."

    Manager: "What's the pipes and industrial gas canister for?!"

    Boffin: "Keep it cool, so it retains the data".

    1. jimjamuk

      Another breakthrough in technology and you have marked it a fail?

      1. Oninoshiko

        You seem to have missed his point

        It's an interesting idea, but the parent's point is that it requires temperatures to be low enough to that it can't be maintained by any reasonable means.

        Call it a "breakthrough" all you want, but until it's able to be done at room temperature rather then temperatures so low they do not naturally occur on earth it's not USEFUL.

        1. PAW

          you're missing a bigger point

          right, because basic research isn't useful unless it's packaged for retail.

    2. Peter Ford

      you missed...

      ... the room full of STM to store (and then read) the data. Or are STMs a bit smaller than they were when I did my PhD?

    3. KitD

      This article has more detail:

      Apparently, room temperature will take about 150 atoms, compared with about 1 million currently. So it is still a worthwhile breakthrough.

      1. annodomini2

        Good find...

        What they fail to mention is the upper limit, yes at room temperature, but what about 85 C?? (Typical upper limit for PC parts)

        i.e. if it gets too warm does it lose it's data?

  6. TeeCee Gold badge

    Hang on.

    Aren't conventional disks ferromagnetic?

    Wouldn't it be risky to use ferromagnetism and anti-ferromagnetism in the same machine?

    1. Aaron Em

      Not so long

      as you keep them far apart.

    2. Peter Ford

      Ferromagnetism and Anti-ferromagnetism are not opposites

      It's not like matter and anti-matter: they're more like different behaviours of a material - think of having an elastic material alongside a plastic material...

  7. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    It's going to be a tough job to keep the mainframe cool now... That's all I need, a room full of BOFHs inhaling helium just before they answer the helpdesk 'phone.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      While it won't work for you it'll do wonders when dealing with chipmunk fans :)

  8. Stevie


    I liked the way the author of this piece filled out the space where the working temperature of the substrate was supposed to go with a side-discussion of freezing water and the startling introduction to the hitherto-unknown "Kelvin" scale.

    I recall a similar ploy used by me on my mock O-Level English exam which involved a book I hadn't read enough of.

    This excellent tactic was entirely successful in filling up the disturbing amount of white paper in the answer booklet.

    1. GBE

      I too shook my head at the "Kelvin" stuff.

      Yea, the bit about "Kelvins" was baffling.

      First of all, the unit name in question is not capitalized.

      Second of all, a temperature (regardless of how it's defined) can be

      expressed in any number of units (e.g., kelvins, degrees Celsius,

      degrees Farenheit, degrees Rankine). I presume there's an official

      Reg unit of temperature, but memory fails me.

      I think what the author was trying to say (and failed completely to do

      so) was that the temperature is a really, really cold temperature. I

      presume the meaningless blurb about kelvins was because for really,

      really cold temperatures, one usually uses kelvins as the units since

      that gives you smallish positive numbers, and people can think more

      easily when dealing with smallish positive numbers.

  9. MrT
    Thumb Up

    I think...

    ...this is where Moore's Law might hit the skids.

  10. Angry_Sup

    In the long term, who needs Earth

    We're talking long-term here. Atomic manipulation in any form is pretty damn cool. As for this latest thing, it looks like our space habitats will have some killer storage. Oh, yeah, it goes into those nano-bots building the habitat.

  11. Darkwolf

    Why not

    use it as a storage in datacenters, then put the datacenters in space?

    You have the cooling needed from space, then power from the sun.

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: Why not

      Then knock up a quick Dyson Sphere while we're at it. Job done.

      1. Dapprman

        @ Ravenviz

        Would prefer a ringworld, as long as it's builders aren't around ...

    2. Peter Ford

      Microwaved from spaced

      The downlink would fry birds that flew through it...

    3. Albert.G

      Cooling in space

      In think that cooling in space is a little problem, becuase of the good isolating properties of vaccumm.

    4. annodomini2

      In order to have solar power, you need sunlight

      When a satellite is in sunlight the temperature is typically over +100degC, only in the shade is it cold. ~ -160c no numbers are provided to determine if this would be cold enough.

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