IBM achieves breakthrough in data storage technology, creates world’s smallest storage device


There has been some pretty neat stuff coming out of the IBM camp as of late. Earlier this week we got a glimpse of the company’s plans to further develop battery technology in electric cars. Now it looks like another research and development division at IBM is hard at work pushing the envelope, and expanding computer storage space on an atomic level.

IBM is calling it Atomic-scale magnetic memory, and it could very well revolutionize the amount of data we are able to store. According to IBM, at its current state, the computer you are working on takes 1 milliont atoms to store 1 bit of data. With IBM’s research efforts into atomic-scale magnetic memory, one bit of data would only require an array of 12 atoms. That’s quite the difference and opens up a world of possibilities.

It all has to do with data density. Being able to increase data density translates directly to how much data can be stored within a given space; in this case we are measuring space in atoms. IBM uses the example of being able to house your entire music and movie collection on a charm-sized pendant around your neck. That’s pretty impressive even by today’s standards when you consider the average size of USB and hard drives — even the smaller ones.

While the technology isn’t entirely new, IBM has been investigating nanotechnology for over two decades now. The fact that the company is turning its attention towards storage capacity isn’t entirely surprising considering there would be a wide demand both among businesses and consumers.

IBM atomic-scale magnetic storage technology

How does it work, though? And how were scientists from IBM’s research team able to accomplish such a task? Well it isn’t as confusing as you might imagine. The team at IBM started by creating a tiny storage device by arranging two rows of six iron atoms on a copper nitride surface, by utilizing antiferromagnetism, which occurs when atoms of an opposing magnetic orientation are positioned near one another, researchers were able to program and store IBM’s motto “Think” on the tiny array. The experiment took place at a temperature of absolute zero, but according to IBM would also be viable at room temperatures, which would bump the up the atom count to 150 — still a far cry from 1 million.

It’s still unclear as to how far off it will be before IBM can successfully offer its technology commercially to consumers, if at all, but it’s still impressive nonetheless. As we delve further into the HD era and the distribution of purely digital content, technology like IBM’s atomic-scale magnetic memory will prove to be quite useful. Besides, how else are we going to store all our favorite Star Trek episodes? 

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