“A Boy and His Atom” – World’s smallest movie by IBM

Screenshot_2Researchers from IBM have made the world’s smallest movie, made with one of the smallest particles of any element in the universe: atoms. The movie named “A Boy and His Atom” has been verified by the Guinness World Records. To make this movie, researchers used thousands of precisely placed atoms to create nearly 250 frames of stop-motion action.
How scientists did it?
Scientists used 5000 atoms of carbon monoxide and a Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) to move thousands of carbon monoxide molecules (two atoms stacked on top of each other). They used the microscope to control a super-sharp needle along a copper surface to “feel” atoms. The needle can physically attract atoms and molecules on the surface and thus pull them to a precisely specified location on the surface. The moving atom makes a unique sound that is critical feedback in determining how many positions it’s actually moved. As the movie was being created, the scientists captured still images of the individually arranged atoms, resulting in 242 single frames.
What is STM?
STM is acronym for Scanning Tunneling Microscope.
About STM:

  • Invented in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer of IBM for which both the inventors were given Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • An instrument for imaging surfaces at the atomic level.
  • Based on the concept of Quantum Tunneling.
  • Weighs two tons, operates at a temperature of -268 degrees Celsius
  • Magnifies the atomic surface over 100 million times

What is Quantum Tunneling?
Quantum tunneling refers to the quantum mechanical phenomenon where a particle tunnels through a barrier that it classically could not surmount. When a conducting tip is brought very near to the surface to be examined, a bias (voltage difference) applied b/w the two can allows electrons to tunnel through the vacuum b/w them. The resulting tunneling current is a function of tip position, applied voltage, and the local density of states (LDOS) of the sample.Information is acquired by monitoring the current as the tip’s position scans across the surface, and is usually displayed in image form.
How this movie is linked with new possibilities in the field of Computer Technology?
The movie shows movements of atoms in a precisely controlled and desired fashion. Developing the world’s smallest movie is not entirely new ground for scientists. They are actually studying materials at the nanoscale to explore the limits of data storage, among other things. The exploration of unconventional methods of magnetism and the properties of atoms on well-controlled surfaces allows scientists to identify entirely new computing paths.
IBM researchers had recently created the world’s smallest magnetic bit. They discovered that it takes 12 atoms to reliably store one bit of magnetic information. On the other hand, the devices that we use take roughly 1 million atoms to store a bit of data on a modern computer or electronic device. If commercialized, this atomic memory could one day store all of the movies ever made in a device the size of a fingernail.



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