You read that right. IBM scientists have managed to store one bit of data on a single atom. And they needed supercooled helium to do it.
The smallest magnet on earth is invisible
On Wednesday, IBM issued a press release and video, announcing that they had created the smallest magnet to ever exist in the world — just a single atom.
On that single magnetic atom, they were able to store one bit of data — now the world’s smallest computer disk.
For comparison, according to IBM, the hard drive in your computer requires 100,000 atoms to store 1 bit of data.
It’s truly an unbelievable and unthinkable feat in data storage technology.
However, this atomic hard drive isn’t going to directly appear in our devices in the immediate future. The reason is simply because of the conditions required to achieve the single atom storage.
A supercooled helium atmosphere
In order to create a single-atom magnet to which they could write data to, scientists needed to create an environment that was close to a pure vacuum, with no reverberation, and was insanely cold.
This is where our beloved helium enters.
The IBM team used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which they invented in the 1980s and ultimately won the Nobel Prize for Physics for. Check out the photo of the STM here.
The microscope uses supercooled helium to produce the frigidly cold environment needed for the atoms to maintain their magnetic properties long enough for the possibility for data to be written and read.
Our helium is room temperature gas, so while it’s useless to microscopes it is perfect for your retail balloon program. Get a free online helium quote from us here!
What does this mean for the future?
As we’ve seen in the change in technology from 30, 20, even 10 years ago, our computers and devices continue to get smaller and smaller while also becoming more powerful.
This accomplishment in nanotechnology opens the door to creating even more powerful and faster technology and storage on an incredibly small scale — an atomic scale.
The example IBM provides is the potential to store the entire iTunes catalog — 35,000,000 songs — on something no larger than your credit card. It wasn’t all that long ago that it took an hour or longer just to download a single song!
So, we won’t be carrying around phones or tablets with supercooled helium pockets inside of them, but this IBM advancement will undoubtedly open the door to smaller and more powerful storage in our devices.