IBM

IBM figures out how to store data on a single atom

The logo of IBM is seen on a computer screen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 22, 2016. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo)

The logo of IBM is seen on a computer screen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 22, 2016. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo)

IBM has managed to do something that was unthinkable a decade ago – it’s found a way to store data on a single atom.

Announced Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, the IBM Research team said it was able to store the data on a single atom for the first time, potentially changing the way digital information is stored and accessed in the future.

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In completing the work, the researchers were able to magnetize individual atoms of holomium -- a rare earth element -- and use the two poles of magnetism to stand in place for the 1s and 0s. Then using an electrical current pass through, they were able to replicate the process of writing information to a hard drive.

“Magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard-disk drives, tape, and next-generation magnetic memory,” said IBM Almaden lab nanoscience researcher Christopher Lutz in a release. “We conducted this research to understand what happens when you shrink technology down to the most fundamental extreme—the atomic scale.”

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Computers, which read bits of data in a series of 0s and 1s, may eventually be able to store significantly more amounts of data in a much denser fashion. Currently, a hard drive takes around 100,000 atoms to store one bit of data. By compacting the data, IBM could theoretically take Apple’s 26 million song music library and put it onto a hard drive the size of a credit card.

The implications of compacting storage are wide reaching --  from potentially allowing a smartwatch to carry a person’s entire data set to aiding in artificial intelligence and machine learning research.