Thursday, September 6, 2007

IBM Takes Baby Steps Toward Atomic-Level Data Storage

Researchers at IBM said research into the magnetic properties of atoms has uncovered ways to possibly create electronics on an extremely small scale. Theoretically, such research could pave the way to dramatically minimizing storage space. The entire library of YouTube, for instance, could exist on a device the size of an iPod. That sort of technology, though, is decades away at best.

In two big breakthroughs on the smallest scale, IBM (NYSE: IBM) Latest News about IBM researchers say they've made discoveries about the nature of individual atoms and molecules that could someday lead to dramatic improvements in computing and other consumer technologies.

In Friday's edition of the journal Science, the nanotechnology researchers report they have discovered new ways to measure the magnetic properties of individual atoms and also how to use a single atomic molecule like a miniature electronic switch, such as those found in computer chips Latest News about computer chips.

It could be decades -- if ever -- before devices based on the technology are available. However, the researchers say the discoveries could be key to developing new types of semiconductors and data storage devices.

All of YouTube on an iPod
Using atoms or clusters of atoms to store data magnetically, for instance, could allow a device the size of an iPod to store nearly 30,000 feature-length movies or the entire contents of the YouTube Latest News about YouTube video-sharing Web site.

Using single molecules to replace integrated circuits on computer chips could help usher in another new age of ever-smaller computers, cell phones or other electronics.

"We are working at the ultimate edge of what is possible --- and we are now one step closer to figuring out how to store data at the atomic level," Gian-Luca Bona, manager of science and technology at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., said in a statement.

Using a special scanning tunneling microscope, IBM researchers were able to arrange individual iron atoms on a copper surface and measure their magnetic properties.

In doing so, they took a step toward being able to manipulate such atoms to represent a "1" or a "0" -- the basis for magnetic storage Learn how SAN/iQ technology works with VMware. and digital data today.

Decades Out
IBM researchers in Switzerland, meanwhile, say they've determined how to use molecules formed from hydrogen atoms as logic switches, much like the "gates" used in today's integrated computer circuits to turn electric currents on and off.

Creating molecule-sized gates could let semiconductor engineers design ever-smaller microprocessors, the "brains" of any electronic device.

IBM researcher Cyrus Hirjibehedin said if IBM's new technology makes it out of the lab and into real-world production, it could be a decade or more before devices at such small scale and with such storage capacity hit the market.

Given the pace of existing technologies, though, it would take as much as five decades to reach similar levels, he said.