Basic components of computers become so small, they gradually faced with the pressure boundaries of the familiar world of Newtonian physics. And nowhere is the precision and scale of operations is not shown better than on the hard disks, where a trillion bits can fit into a square inch. IBM managed to beat this scenario: scientists have learned how to write and read data in a single atom.
While this achievement may be more symbolic than practical, but even a simple demonstration of the example of the working of the atomic data warehouse can seem almost science fiction.
Perhaps you are not surprised, but the atoms is the smallest unit of matter, which we can reliably manipulate and expect that it will be fixed. Conducted an interesting experiment with entangled photon, but they are quite nimble, too. While we still try to keep things that will not escape in the blink of an eye if you let up for a second. And the previous technique of atomic storage is not actually stored in the atom, and moves them with the education-to-read patterns (also interesting, by the way).
This means that you can specify individual atoms the values 0 and 1 will be the next major step forward and the next major barrier in the field of data storage in digital form, which will allow to increase capacity, and will present a completely new challenge for engineers and physicists. The IBM experiment published recently in Nature, the present results of the atomic storage from theory to reality.
It Works like this: an individual atom of holmium (large, with lots of electrons without pairs) is mounted on the layer of magnesium oxide. In this configuration, the atom has a so-called magnetic bistability: there are two stable magnetic States with different spin (just remember it).
The Scientists used a scanning tunneling microscope (invented by IBM in the 1980-ies) to make about 150 millivolts at 10 mA to the atom — it may seem that it's not much, but on such a scale is like a lightning. This huge inflow of electrons makes the atom of holmium to switch its magnetic spin state. Because the two States have different profiles of conductivity, the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope can determine the condition of the atom, giving a lower voltage (about 75 mV) and sensing the resistance.
To be absolutely certain that the atom changes its magnetic state and is not a result of interference or the action of an electric storm of STM, the researchers found next to him an atom of iron. This atom is under the influence of its magnetic surroundings and reacts not as the atom of holmium in different States. This proves that the experiment actually creates a trusted stored magnetic state in the individual atom, which can be determined indirectly.
And that's what we do next: a single atom is used to store the known zeros and ones, 0 and 1. The experimenters made a couple of atoms to form four binary combinations (00, 01, 10, 11), you can create such a node.
"to demonstrate independent reading and writing, we built the atomic structure of the two bits of holmium, in which we recorded four possible States which we considered as magnetoresistive or remotely by electronic spin resonance. High magnetic stability combined with the electrical reading and writing shows that the magnetic memory of a single atom it is possible".
Chris Lutz, a researcher in nanotechnology at the IBM laboratory in Almaden, one of the authors of the work said that made the atom will eventually lose its spin.
"Since the atoms are heated, we expect that they will begin to spontaneously roll over. Because heat energy represents a significant part of the energy barrier between the States. In practice, when you create a memory you will need to increase this barrier through the use of several paired atoms or innovative methods of working with individual atoms."
If it'll loosen your enthusiasm — that they plan to work with molecules, not individual atoms don't worry. One of the experiments in 2016, which exceeded a terabit per square inch, used magnetic beads with a diameter of only 5 nanometers. The atom of holmium in diameter and about 200 PM; it would be possible to put 25 of these from one end of the granule to the other — if the atom had "ends". Doubling the original amount not much affect the possibilities of storage — and there are other options will do.
"We plan to explore the atoms of other elements, clusters of atoms and small molecules as potential magnetic bits," writes Lutz.
It Will be a long time before you will be able to use one of these on my laptop. While this area is inextricably linked with the laboratory, low temperatures and ultra-precise devices. Will there be down there for one more?
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