IBM Research Screens ‘World’s Smallest Movie’

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Research into the future of storage has allowed scientists to produce a stop-motion film composed of individual atoms

Scientists from IBM Research lab in San Jose have just made history by releasing the first ever stop-motion film that was made using individual atoms.

By moving single particles of carbon on a copper surface, they created A Boy And His Atom, officially certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s smallest movie”.

IBM devised this experiment as a user-friendly way to showcase technology advances made while researching the limits of data storage equipment. According to IBM, today, our storage devices require one million atoms to store one bit (a value of either 0 or 1) of information. Recently, the company has proved that a bit can be stored using just 12 atoms.

A Boy And His Atom

The film, under two minutes long and composed of 242 frames, features a boy playing with a ball that changes physical properties. The boy is just a nanometre in size and the film had to be magnified over 100 million times to become visible to the human eye.

A boy and his atom posterThe atoms were moved around using the tip of a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM) – a device invented at IBM way back in 1981, usually employed to study atomic magnetism.

STM allows electrons to “tunnel” through the vacuum between a conducting “tip” and the surface as a result of difference in voltage. The microscope monitors the tip’s position and translates it into an image. The same tip, when brought close enough to individual atoms, can move them without physical contact, and the copper surface helps to “glue” them into place.

It took researchers two weeks to create A Boy And His Atom. The two-tonne STM machine operates in a vacuum, and at temperatures close to absolute zero, -268 degrees Celsius to be exact.

Andreas Heinrich, principal investigator at IBM Research, told the BBC he hopes the film will inspire children to study science and maths.

The same IBM Research laboratory is responsible for the atomic force microscope, which is capable of observing single molecules and atomic bonds within them.

Earlier this month, IBM announced a $1 billion initiative to research the flash storage technology which it hopes will yield a line-up of new data centre appliances.

You can watch A Boy And His Atom below:



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