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IBM Science

IBM Measures Force Required To Move Atoms 128

Tjeerd writes "IBM scientists, in collaboration with the University of Regensburg in Germany, are the first ever to measure the force it takes to move individual atoms on a surface. This fundamental measurement provides important information for designing future atomic-scale devices: computer chips, miniaturized storage devices, and more." I've attached a video if you are interested.

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IBM Measures Force Required To Move Atoms

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  • by Enleth ( 947766 ) <> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:29AM (#22588446) Homepage
    They've been the first (only?) company to construct their logo with individual atoms [] - and that was in 1990. Looks like they don't give up researching the basics, despite turning more and more into a consulting/support company, not the big iron provider they've always been.
    • by snl2587 ( 1177409 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:34AM (#22588520)

      Well, yes, they did move atoms with precision in 1989 (from TFA), but moving things and measuring the force required are two different things. If you know the exact forces you can automate the process much more effectively as no manual checking is needed.

      • you forgot one thing you also need. The power of gravity is different at different altitudes. So they can measure it all they want, it's still going to change. Who thinks they were smart enough to remember that? I sure don't think so.
    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:08PM (#22588936)

      They've been the first (only?) company to construct their logo with individual atoms -

      To be perfectly fair to other companies, IBM has a very simple logo. It is also black and white. Now that we can finally see atoms in color [], other companies can get in on that action.

      If you could make circuits like that, it would be really interesting, although useless. For instance, I can imagine an Air where the CPU (at the atomic level) looked like the Apple logo tesselated again and again.

  • As I was reading the article I was trying to visualize what
    this looked like. I was pretty frustrated until I came back
    to /. and realized there was not only an image -- but a
    freakin' video.

    So, bravo for including that video. It really added value. Thanks.
  • Should read (Score:4, Interesting)

    by esocid ( 946821 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:35AM (#22588536) Journal
    IBM measures force required to move a cobalt atom over a platinum (and copper) surface. I would gather that the force for different atoms is minutely different, as well as whatever friction or molecular interactions b/w the atom and surface material.

    ...the force required to move a cobalt atom over a smooth platinum surface is 210 piconewtons, while moving a cobalt atom over a copper surface takes only 17 piconewtons
    An almost factor of 13 between the two surfaces. Maybe due to the valence electron difference between the two materials, but it is right that this is important for nano-technology, something about which I know less than physics and chemistry.
    • Well, it was teflon coated copper :P
    • by Fx.Dr ( 915071 )
      FTFA: To put this in perspective, the force required to lift a copper penny that weighs just three grams is nearly 30 billion piconewtons...

      Heh, next time I go to the gym, I'm not measuring anything in lbs/kgs, I'm measuring everything in piconewtons. Who's the lazy bastard now, ladies? I just lifted a freakin' penny.
      • Way to go, Patrick Swayze.
    • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )
      If you stack two atoms (only one contacting the surface), how does the force required change? Three? More?
      If you chain two atoms (both touching the surface), how does the force change? Three? More?

      It would be really interesting to see if applying force in "the right spot" could make moving things around much easier.....think "Moving Men" ( [] but at an atomic scale.

    • The forces needed to move an atom on a surface would indeed vary wildly depending on the atom. You're right about valence playing a role, but very often you will see London dispersion forces [] having a very significant impact at extremely close ranges. These forces have more to do with the overall electron distribution and the resulting interactions rather than direct valence interactions.
  • by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:39AM (#22588582)
    Because when this story was there a week or two ago, 90% of the comments were stupid jokes.

    This is a really interesting part of surface science, which in itself is more important than people give it credit for.
    The force to move that atom meassured _directly_ is something new, that will also allow more educated guess on the dynamics of self-assembling layers.

    To illustrate a point: All those nice pictures like shoing "IBM" in atoms are usually done on a nice surface (Pt-111), and cooled down to helium temperatures. At room temperatures, those atoms just around on a timescale faster than you can meassure a picture.
    This is also (or even more) the case when creating thin layers on a substrate, where there are lots of different ways for layers to grow (some substrate material combination first grow "islands", others form a single layer, and islands later, others grow layer by layer). This is hard to detect in situ (a LEED picture only shows that much...). So anything we know about those forces helps understanding this behaviour.

    And yeah, about practical applications: Everything from solar cells (organic ones have _very thin_ layers in their CIGGSE sandwitch) to lithography (dielectric mirrors for EUV-lithography is a hot topic)
  • A step forward towards an universal constructor. Did I spend too many hours playing Deus Ex?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      A step forward to the Star Trek Matter Replicator.

      When you have a machine that can construct anything out of atoms or even molecules (perhaps nanometer sized machines doing the constructing, in the scale of billions of the little things), then physical property will in fact be equal to intellectual property.

      In short, the only thing that will have monetary value will be land. The "IP" wars being waged today are setting the stage for the future wars between the "have nots" and the "we have but don't want anyo
      • You still need raw materials and energy. Some atoms are pretty cheap (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen), but if they thing you're replicating requires gold or other rarer elements that's going to make certain things cost a lot more than the IP of their design. And I don't even know how to estimate the energy involved, but I assume it will be non-trivial.
        • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
          Since you;re working with atoms and molecules raw materials are free; even gold and platimum, which are surely in and on the dust floating around in this room, and there are gold and platinum in the computer I'm typing on. You'll have little "seeker" nanobots flying around inspecting dust and searching for the needed raw materials. As to energy, if you can make anything without cost, you can construct solar panels and windmills and batteries other such energy producers for free as well.
          • Hey look, my nano-replicator just made me a Gold and Platinum Ferrari for free! Too bad I weigh 10^17 piconewtons!

            • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
              You or the Ferrari? I mean, a guy like you is going to need a BIG car!

              And I thought the FBI put you in prison for draft evasion, when did you get out? And how's Ethel doing?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Why, then we'll build an atom constructor to assemble subatomic particles into the necessary elements.

          "Will work for electrons."
  • measure the force it takes to move individual atoms on a surface

    Wouldn't that surface be made of, ummmm, atoms?

    • May I be the first to say WTFV! ( i suppose /. does not need explanation on what WTFV means)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by boarder8925 ( 714555 )

      Wouldn't that surface be made of, ummmm, atoms?
      I doubt yo have or will RTFA or WTFV, so I'll answer: The surface in the experiment was crystalline [] .
    • You mean the person that wrote the summary could have said, "individual atoms on different surfaces" or "specific types of atoms on different surfaces". Then I wouldn't have to RTFA. Yeah, like I come here for the articles!
  • by Pulse_Instance ( 698417 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:48AM (#22588678)
    The intro to the video has "people patents projects" it is almost scary to see that patents is that entrenched in their business plans. Although at the same time IBM has done a lot to increase the research and knowledge in the whole nano-tech field. When I was a tech in a lab the prof running the lab told me that most of the time when there was some barrier that no one could cross in the nano-tech field IBM would throw a ton of money at it and solve the problem. So it is nice to see they are still working on solving problems and advancing the field.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      and IBM can do it BECAUSE of patents.
      Patents are not 'evil' Yes some are abusive, and yes process patents and software patents have borked the system, but for stuff like this I am glad we have a patent system.

      If IBM tried to keep this a trade secrets. they might have gotten 5 years of production, if they where extremely good at keeping secrets.
      OTOH, if everything was trade secrets I suspect industrial espionage would be a much larger problem.

    • It's even worse than that. Did you see what "people patents projects" was the object of? "Made in IBM labs". People! Made in IBM labs!

      I also kind of liked the IBM logo in the beginning and end that faded to black to the sound of electrical discharge.


    • IBM is still the single largest patent holding entity in the US []. The article is a bit old, but its still valid today. While I can sympathize with your concern as I believe the US patent system is in SEVERE need of a rethinking, IBM has, in relatively un-recent history, been a fairly benevolent patent holder. Much more so than most other large patent holding companies anyways.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thanshin ( 1188877 )
      He'd also need a place to stand.

      Anyway, he'd never know whether he was moving the universe, or just himself.

  • by johnw ( 3725 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:09PM (#22588946)
    Surely all you need to do is measure the force required to move mountains and then divide by the number of atoms in a mountain?
  • by Mortiss ( 812218 )
    Funny that this video has instantly reminded me of UAC promotional videos in Doom3.
    I am still waiting for the Elementary Phase Deconstructor!
  • SlashTube (Score:3, Funny)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:58PM (#22589596) Homepage
    Thank God we have embedded YouTube videos on Slashdot now. Now if only we could get people to post a bunch of asinine and off-topic comments below each video...
  • From El Wikipedia []: "In quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is the statement that locating a particle in a small region of space makes the momentum of the particle uncertain; and conversely, that measuring the momentum of a particle precisely makes the position uncertain."

    IBM is blowing smoke up our five-hole.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by smaddox ( 928261 )
      The diameter of an atom is on the order of 1 Angstrom (0.1 nm).

      Planks constant is on the order of 10^-34 J*s.

      Basically, the uncertainty is dominated by the size of the atom.
  • If IBM has announced this now, expect Intel to announce within a week that "We're doing it too." After all, Intel cannot afford to be perceived as being behind anybody in advanced integrated circuit design.

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