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IBM Science Technology

IBM Develops Technology That Could Store Data In Atoms 53

Posted by Zonk
from the wee-little-pcs dept.
InfoWorldMike passed us a link to a story at his site about a way to perform computer functions on the atomic level. IBM has pioneered the process at their Almaden Research lab in California. Essentially, researchers detect 'magnetic anisotropy, a property of the magnetic field that gives it the ability to maintain a particular direction'. Since the process allows the detection of the 'direction' individual atoms are facing, this is the first step towards the ones and zeroes used in binary. "In a second report, researchers at IBM's lab in Zurich, Switzerland, said they had used an individual molecule as an electric switch that could potentially replace the transistors used in modern chips. The company published both research reports in Friday's edition of the journal Science.The new technologies are at least 10 years from being used for components in commercial products, but the discoveries will allow scientists to take a large step forward in their quest to replace silicon, said IBM spokesman Matthew McMahon."
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IBM Develops Technology That Could Store Data In Atoms

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  • really crappy sci fi (Score:3, Interesting)

    by netsavior (627338) on Friday August 31, 2007 @07:37PM (#20430025)
    I read really crappy sci-fi one time where humans moved to more and more obscure and technical means to store data, untill eventually they were making notches in neutrons. Since the technology to read/write it was so expensive, they just centralized it. The machine broke and all the data needed to fix it was stored on a few atoms in a vault with no way to read it.

    I know it is "dimestore" technology alarmist camp, but I thought it was funny that this story is comming true. Anyone know the name of this story??
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by hidannik (1085061)

      Ms Fnd in a Lbry [wikipedia.org] by Hal Draper.

      Notched quanta, it was.


      Hans

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        Very cool (actually, it was "notched electron" and further reduced to "chipped quantum", and then later "nudged quanta"!). The wikipedia article has a link to the full text [comcast.net] (written in 1961), as well.

        From it:

        [...] all of which were producing *books* in torrents.

        How ahead of his time he was! :)

        I also liked this gem:

        [...] whole branches of knowledge could for the first time be put in a nutshell.

        And, wow: he even envisioned Google, over 30 years before it came into existence (emphasis mine):

        The

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Associate (317603)
      Hey, as long as Windows doesn't crash the universe...
  • They already hold most of the patents for spintronics. http://www.nve.com/index.php# [nve.com]
    • by Associate (317603)
      But matter has more subatomic properties than spin by which data can be stored.
      There's always more than one way to skin a cat.
  • For some reason, this procedure makes me think of magnetic resonance imaging. I can't really seem to exactly pinpoint why that is, however, and I think the link I'm imagining might be totally specious.
    • I am not sure of the process that IBM uses, but.. MRI utilizes a large magnetic field to energize the molecules in your body that are polarized (water) into the same direction. The machine then uses radiant energy (microwaves) to excite the polarized molecules (water) thus causing them to wobble off their axis. When the radiant energy (microwaves) is turned off the polarized molecules' "wobble" starts to decay such that the molecule will reline with the large magnetic field thus releasing the extra energ
  • Is this the same thing which is holding galaxies in a certain direction?

    Is the universe binary?
  • ...data was already stored in atoms?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MBCook (132727)
      Only in Lisp.
      • by OakDragon (885217)

        I thought data was already stored in atoms?

        Only in Lisp.

        I could pretend that I was making a subtle reference to Lisp, but I'm giving you the prize. LOL, as the kids say.

    • True - one of the earliest attempts can be seen in uncompressed images stored on cave walls - walls made entirely of atoms!
  • Downside... (Score:4, Funny)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Friday August 31, 2007 @08:08PM (#20430211)
    It sucks when buffer overflows can go critical.

    Think you hated blue screens of death? Wait until you have to deal with a blue mushroom cloud of actual death.
  • dadgummit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by schwaang (667808) on Friday August 31, 2007 @08:34PM (#20430351)
    I remember when Bubble memory [wikipedia.org] was the next big thing.
    We had 16K RAM and we liked it.
  • It strikes me odd, that data still seems to be stored in binary form, although it would be possible storing for example zeroes, ones, twos and threes and then converting that stuff to binary form. If it is possible pointing the atoms at more directions than just two (why would it be limited to precisely two?), they could store dramatically more information with the same amount of data. Also the data could be read faster, when you could fit the information of two bits into one. Or the information of three bi
    • by d12v10 (1046686)
      Not sure how it works in QM, but it becomes exponentially more difficult to manage and transmit and read when it becomes trinary. There is a lot more accuracy required for an "in between" state, and our hardware would probably need to double in size to handle it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bob of Dole (453013)
        Yeah, that's the main reason. Binary is nice because you have the largest possible range between values, so the actual value drifting (0.8 is obviously 1, and 0.2 is obviously 0) doesn't cause much trouble.
        Adding more states makes it much more likely that a 0 will turn into a 1, or a 1 might turn into a 2.
    • by Associate (317603)
      I was thinking the same thing. You could go trinary with XYZ alignments. Or if it had a vector in one of those three, bump it up to base-6. BUT if you could determine the multitude of directions possible referencing a key atom, the limit would again be at the discreetness of the detector as it is now with the read/write head.
    • electron spin? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sowth (748135) on Friday August 31, 2007 @09:33PM (#20430629) Journal

      From what it sounded to me, they were using the direction of the spin of the electrons [wikipedia.org] to hold the information. There are only two directions, so that is why you only get binary. I suppose if you found a way to read the spin of each individual electron, you'd be able to store mulitple bits per atom. And yes, this is new (certainly for computers), as currently there are two types of RAM used most of the time: SRAM and DRAM.

      SRAM [wikipedia.org] uses only transistors to store the data. This takes several components, so it is very big and expensive, but also very fast. DRAM [wikipedia.org] uses a capacitor to store the data and a transistor to select it. This only requires two components, but accessing the capacitor is slower and the capacitor slowly loses the charge, so it has to be refreshed within a certain amount of time, or the data it holds will be lost. Both of those require components which at minimum will be several atoms big, so creating a memory cell the size of an atom will most certainly reduce the size of RAM.

      There is also trinary systems [freeshell.org]. This is probably what you where trying to get at. I have heard of RAM based on trinary, but I don't know if it is in use yet. I don't think it would work here as there are only two directions the electron spins. The trinary RAM I think is based on having the capacitor with either a positive voltage, negative voltage or no voltage across it. That is what gives the three possible states. With a capacitor, you could have more, but you'd have to use analog style circuits and probably higher refresh rates, which would mean higher failure rates and other problems.

      That is a very simple explanation from what I know, and technically there are other types of RAM, but hopefully it gave you an idea what is going on.

      • I highly doubt the article is talking about using electron spin to store data. For every spin up electron, there has to be a spin down electron to counter its spin, unless we're talking about materials with an unpaired electron. We need more information before we speculate
  • I'm going to develop a method of storing data on quarks, for really high data storage density!
  • I think they've been hoping for molecule- or atom-sized storage for a while, since they invented the STM and the AFM. The STM or AFM probe was used to 'write' on the surface as well as read it. I think one of the problems they had there was physical control of the probe - I'm not sure how this would be any different. Fixing the whole system to a very low temperature helps since you eliminate thermal effects. I used to do room temperature AFM and STM and it was a pain if someone opened the door to your l
  • This is old news. They have been prototyping this concept since 2000.
  • atomic computing
    • actually, the term quantum computing was coined LONG ago by using the quantum properties of superposition to create "qubits", which are quantum bits
  • Sorry for sounding like a jaded old hack but that phrase is getting old.

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