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IBM Creates World's Smallest 3-D Map

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the you-are-here-to-within-15-nm dept.

IBM 90

schliz writes "IBM scientists have created the smallest 3-D map of the earth, so small that 1,000 maps could fit on a grain of salt (YouTube video from IBM). The 500K-pixel map was created in 2 minutes 23 seconds. Using a tiny, heated silicon tip, the technique reached a resolution of 15nm — comparable to the 10nm achievable by the more complex electron beam lithography. The researchers believe that smaller resolutions are feasible. Potential applications range from fast prototyping for CMOS nanoelectronics to fabricating shape-matching templates for self-assembling nano-rods or nano-tubes, IBM says. The researchers also produced a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn." This is very much a laboratory technique at the moment, at least five years from commercial use.

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Obligatory... (3, Funny)

ddegirmenci (1644853) | about 4 years ago | (#31953946)

>> at least 5 years from commercial use.

http://xkcd.com/678/ [xkcd.com]

Re:Obligatory... (1)

dmmiller2k (414630) | about 4 years ago | (#31954906)

Ahhh, it's just as well to put off the inevitable for a few more years. I'm already at the point where I have trouble reading the darned things while driving.

No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up. - Lily Tomlin

Re:Obligatory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31965050)

hehe ,it is true.
you can post your prelaunch site in my site.the fee is only $1.www.marketingdollarmillionaire.com

Re:Obligatory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31965082)

oh, yes ,it is true.
if you want to ad your prelaunch site, please contact me.the fee is $1. my site www.marketingdollarmillionaire.com

Not really an improvement aye? (1)

santax (1541065) | about 4 years ago | (#31954040)

I mean, back in the seventies, my grandmother bought me a globe that could spin, was big enough to actually read AND had light! Bet it was a lot cheaper too.

Awesome! (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954066)

1000 1:1 images of CmdrTaco's wang on a grain of salt. What an amazing age we live in.

Re:Awesome! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954194)

LOL! Trolls still can't get enough of Taco's Wang.

Re:Awesome! (0, Offtopic)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | about 4 years ago | (#31954506)

LOL! Trolls still can't get enough of Taco's Wang.

Taco Wang? I knew him. His parents were Chinese and really loved that remake of "Putting on the Ritz" [youtube.com] by Taco - thereby naming him Taco, Taco Wang. I think he's working for His Majesty's Secret Service and introduces himself as Wang. Taco Wang. and prefers his martinis shaken not served - but that's another story.

Oh No! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954104)

I'm going to have to wait five years until I can have maps of the world on the head of my pins?


ah (4, Funny)

sentientbeing (688713) | about 4 years ago | (#31954142)

Ah miniature maps. The next big thing.

Re:ah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954316)

Ah miniature maps. The next big thing.


Now, when I'm playing the world's smallest violin during a boring story... I can direct the other person where to go with the world's smallest map!

Re:ah (1)

Curtman (556920) | more than 3 years ago | (#31964722)

The real question is... How many Libraries of Congress will fit on the grain of salt using this technology?

Re:ah (1)

The_Wilschon (782534) | about 4 years ago | (#31954368)

Next? The idea for this sort of thing has been around since at least 1959 [zyvex.com].

Re:ah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954996)

"we have raised letters of metal that are actually 1/25,000 of their ordinary size. How would we read it? If we had something written in such a way, we could read it using techniques in common use today. [mumble, mumble, mumble...] ...and then look through it with an electron microscope! "

I love that! I get so little use out of my electron microscope, in fact I have been contemplating trading it in for a large particle collider.

Microcosm (4, Interesting)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about 4 years ago | (#31954212)

Perhaps the Earth we live on is in actuality someone's really tiny 3D map.

Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954300)

Ubisoft can use this to print their game manuals.

Is this a map.... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954392)

for Ants!?

it needs to be at least 3 times bigger than this.

what? (3, Insightful)

Punto (100573) | about 4 years ago | (#31954464)

a 3D map made of pixels created with a physical needle? what the hell does that mean? is this a physical map, or just information? what is a "pixel" in a 3D map? do they mean a voxel? or are pixels a unit of discrete physical space now? (3D physical space?). Somebody got their concepts all mixed up I think.

Re:what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954854)

It's a height map. The (x,y) coordinates are equal to that of the input map, and the z coordinate is proportional to the value at that pixel. A height map is not truly 3D because you can't have "areas above areas" (rooms above rooms, if you want it in terms of an FPS).

Re:what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31955450)

They're probably referring to the size of the map data used to generate the nanoscale equivalent. (It's driven by computer, of course.) Which then refers to the number of times the needle-point had to touch down to evaporate the polymer.

Re:what? (1)

Splab (574204) | about 4 years ago | (#31955714)

If you bothered to read and view the video you would understand that 3D in this case is depth, not building blocks, in this context a pixel makes perfect sense since a pixel is the smallest discrete component in a picture.

Re:what? (4, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | about 4 years ago | (#31958556)

It is 3D in the sense that it is a 2D image with topography (a height map). Basically they are using a very sharp (nano-sized) heated stylus to desorb ("burn") away nano-sized amounts of polymer. (This is basically a variant of "scanning probe" methods like atomic force microscopy [wikipedia.org].) By carefully positioning the probe in x-y you can draw a pattern, and by controlling the stylus height and burn time, you can control the depth. In this way you can create arbitrary topography at the nano-scale.

Many of the comments in this thread seem to be fixating on the uselessness of such a small map of the world. Making a world map was just a cute proof of principle (the paper also shows test patterns so that you can judge patterning fidelity). Basically this is a new way to pattern at the nanoscale in an fairly arbitrary way. Of course raster scanning a stylus is going to be very slow compared to optical lithography, but at this stage it's better to compare to something like e-beam lithography [wikipedia.org] which is the raster-scanning of an electron beam. This is also slow, but can make very high-resolution patterns and is thus great for exploratory research and for creating the masters that are then used for optical lithography. This new nano-desorbing technique could be another way to make master patterns. In fact, the papers mention that the resolution and throughput are in fact comparable to e-beam methods. And this new technique has a couple of advantages:
1. The ability to not just pattern in 2D, but control the topography could reduce the number of patterning steps in microchip construction.
2. These mechanical 'scanning tips' can in principle be built into massive arrays, allowing parallel (high-throughput) patterning. In fact IBM has been working on a project called millipede [wikipedia.org] for using these arrays of tips as a data storage device. (This most recent patterning work appears to be an offshoot, where instead of melting pits to store data, they are blasting away material to pattern.)

It's always difficult to predict whether these things will become real products one day, but the proof-of-principle for both tip arrays, and now for nano-scale patterning using heated tips, means that we're actually relatively close. If IBM pursues this, it could become a new nano-patterning method in the toolbox of the microelectronics industry (which is, of course, always looking for techniques that can push patterning to ever smaller scales).

For anyone interested (and with subscription access), here are the papers:
"Nanoscale 3D Patterning of Molecular Resists by Scanning Probes [sciencemag.org]" by D. Pires, J. L. Hedrick, A. De Silva, J. Frommer, B. Gotsmann, H. Wolf, M. Despont, U. Duerig and A. W. Knoll was published by Science on the Science Express website on April 22, 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1187851 [doi.org]
"Probe-based 3-D Nanolithography Using Self-Amplified Depolymerization Polymers [wiley.com]" by A. Knoll, D. Pires, O. Coulembier, P. Dubois, J. L. Hedrick, J. Frommer and U. Duerig was published in Advanced Materials, advanced online publication on April 23, 2010, DOI: 10.1002/adma.200904386 [doi.org]

Matterhorn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31954470)

The researchers also produced a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn

Fixed that for you.

Re:Matterhorn (2, Funny)

HTH NE1 (675604) | about 4 years ago | (#31956388)

Why would you climb a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn?

Because it's barely there.

Re:Matterhorn (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 3 years ago | (#31962794)

Why would you climb a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn?

Because it's barely there.

Yo mama's so fat she accidentally inhaled the Matterhorn.

Resolution? (2, Informative)

jpyeck (1368075) | about 4 years ago | (#31954482)

To what scale is this a "map of the Earth"? At some point this will become so small a 3D map of the Earth is going to be indistinguishable from a sphere.

Re:Resolution? (1)

md65536 (670240) | more than 3 years ago | (#31960886)

At a billion-to-one scale, the Earth would be about as big as a thumbnail (12.7562 mm diameter).

At any scale, the "sphereyness" should be exactly the same. The Earth when viewed from the moon, should look just as much like a sphere as such a model held in your hand somewhere in front of your face. You're wondering, how closely or largely would you have to view such a model, to distinguish its details? For making maps to be viewed with the naked eye, the nanoscopic detail described in TFA is far too dense to be practical.

"..a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn" (3, Funny)

hivebrain (846240) | about 4 years ago | (#31954632)

Professor Slartibartfast is particularly proud of his glacier work with this model.

I wouldn't call it a map really (2, Insightful)

ElSupreme (1217088) | about 4 years ago | (#31954718)

With a surface area of 511,000,000 km^2 and only 500,000 pixels you are talking a pixel for every 1000 km^2. That is not what I would call a map, more so a spherical blob.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (1)

InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) | about 4 years ago | (#31955204)

It's still a map, doesn't matter what the scale is. In fact, no maps (of cities, the world, etc) are 1:1 because they would have to be the same size as what they are mapping.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (3, Funny)

Another, completely (812244) | about 4 years ago | (#31955482)

Steven Wright has claimed that he has a 1:1 map of the United States. He keeps it spread out across the country because it's a bitch to fold.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (1)

ElSupreme (1217088) | about 4 years ago | (#31955486)

Well scale, and resolution are completely different things.
I have no problem with the SCALE that IBM is using. I have a problem with the resolution, Personally I don't think it is legitimate to call a half mega-pixel "globe" of the earth a 3D map. with 1000km resolution there is no valuable 3D information in there. This is a picture of the earth in globe form. A really low RESOLUTION one. Calling it a map is a stretch. Calling it a 3D map is not legitimate as there is no usable 3D Information based solely on resolution.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (2, Informative)

Bob-taro (996889) | about 4 years ago | (#31956504)

I have a problem with the resolution ... Calling it a map is a stretch. Calling it a 3D map is not legitimate as there is no usable 3D Information based solely on resolution.

Technically, it's a map no matter how little information is there. But aside from that, your math is off. It's one pixel for 1000km^2, not (1000km)^2. Each pixel represents a square with 32km sides.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (1)

ElSupreme (1217088) | about 4 years ago | (#31956944)

Do you know any geographical features that are 32 km in the vertical? So there is NO usable 3D information. So it would not be a 3D map. It is a really low resolution flat globe.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31959392)

Quit being a douche. This isn't to put in your glove-box for navigation. It is an exercise of the technology.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31960088)

You sir are an idiot.

There is nothing in the statement about pixels that says anything about the accuracy of the height information or the scale they are using for it.

So it shows up ocean floors and trenches, continents and mountain ranges quite well.

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31961990)

Do you seriously think any 3D map has the same scale in Z axis as in the other two? At 1:1 000 000 mt Everest is a couple mm high

Re:I wouldn't call it a map really (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31956328)


Great news! (1)

CODiNE (27417) | about 4 years ago | (#31954944)

This is excellent news and will be a real help to very very very very very small blind people.

Re:Great news! (1)

CODiNE (27417) | about 4 years ago | (#31955104)

Okay it's lame to reply to myself, but I don't want to detract from the very real work and effort that has gone into making actual 3D maps for the blind.

http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/OSM_for_the_blind [openstreetmap.org]
http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/HaptoRender [openstreetmap.org]

There's a lot of mapping information that can help the blind such as where audio enhanced intersections exist, which roads the sidewalks can be felt, there's even 3D maps printed out with the street names converted to braille so 3D maps really are awesome for blind people.

Smaller resolutions? (1)

MisterMidi (1119653) | about 4 years ago | (#31954950)

The researchers believe that smaller resolutions are feasible.

I imagine with a lot of hard work they could eventually bring it back to 1x1 pixel.

IBM didn't invent this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31955074)

Once again, they have used a technique someone else made and made a truly worthless contribution that simply serves to rev up the hype machine surrounding them. Just looking it up on google scholar, I found articles going back at least 6 years and calling it various things such as "thermochemical AFM etching", "scanning thermal lithography", and so on. Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, but in that case perhaps someone would care to explain exactly what their contribution has been to this technology?

Re:IBM didn't invent this (2, Interesting)

ProdigyPuNk (614140) | about 4 years ago | (#31955772)

I'll shoot. It's one thing to move one or two "pixels" in this way. That's what a lot of the people did that you are referring to. It's quite another thing to actually DO something with the technology. Also, IBM will continue to improve this, and sooner or later will find an application worth using it on. So while they might not be kickstarting much in the way of science, science NEEDS bigger companies like this to push new technologies down the pipeline.

Cool (1)

FearKratos (1794192) | about 4 years ago | (#31955310)

This sounds like it could be useful for saving information in data blocks.

Re:Cool (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about 4 years ago | (#31955638)

I was thinking the same thing. I imagine this could be used for those long long term data storage needs, say, thousands or millions of years. Beats using gold-plated LPs that's for sure.

Solution in search of a problem (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#31955484)

Was this really a problem in the past, that globes were too big?!? And really, doesn't a really tiny "3D map of the earth" look exactly like a ball bearing?

Re:Solution in search of a problem (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 4 years ago | (#31955670)

Is your post serious? This is laughable. I can see it now, people jeering at Ben Franklin's experiments with electricity, "why do we need more sparks?"

Re:Solution in search of a problem (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#31956542)

No, it was a joke. Apparently IBM got tired of writing the letters "I", "B", and "M" really, really small. But they could have been a lot more creative. E.g. they could have made a really, really tiny map of the human brain, and labeled it "Antitrust Lawyer's Brain (actual size)".

Re:Solution in search of a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31956136)

...not unless that world has even tinier people...

Re:Solution in search of a problem (1)

f3rret (1776822) | about 4 years ago | (#31956492)

It's called "Proof of Concept", in this case the concept being a new form of nano-machining, the fact they made a map of the earth (And the Matterhorn) was merely to show off.

New type of microfilm (2, Interesting)

Locklin (1074657) | about 4 years ago | (#31955564)

This could have some neat applications. You can encode a large amount of information (like a detailed map of the world) in something the size of a marble and read it without power using an optical microscope. If done well, this could have applications for things from a modern rosetta stone to providing reference material for schools in places without electricity.

They did it 10 years ago? (1)

Shompol (1690084) | about 4 years ago | (#31955842)

They did a similar stunt about 10 years ago: engraved IBM with single molecules. I think there is no practical application -- they just roll the machine out of a closet every 10 years for publicity.
Oh, wait, here's their patent [freepatentsonline.com]... from 1971 !?

Illicit use of the machine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31956870)

Like the question of whether there has been sex in space, this makes me wonder what the smallest-ever porn is. The corporate bigwigs can't be watching the machine all the time...

On a grain of salt? (1)

RNLockwood (224353) | about 4 years ago | (#31957414)

Give me a break, the proper measurement "is on the head of a pin". I mean, whoever heard of how many angels can dance on a grain of salt.
Never mind their motivation.

Re:On a grain of salt? (1)

kimvette (919543) | about 4 years ago | (#31959346)

What I want to know is this: how many of these spherical maps will it take to completely fill a volkswagon bug?

the map is a red herring (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31957590)

The real point of this tech is the ability to create precise 3D structures at nanoscale sizes. All it takes to jump start nanotech molecular manufacturing is one functional assembler. Functional is defined as able to build any structure I tell it to, including a copy of itself.
That being said, the five year figure is another red herring as we don't need to bring this tech to commercial production line viability. All it needs is enough refinement to successfully pull off a top down build of a viable prototype assembler. That assembler would then be the tool for further refinement and the technology in the article would be obsolete.

Neat by why not solve a harder problem? (1)

al0ha (1262684) | about 4 years ago | (#31958226)

Pretty nifty for sure, but why a 3-D map? Why not solve a harder problem which is archival data storage? Seems to me being able to minutely etch the strings of 1s and 0s from a HD onto some material that either won't decay over time, or will decay so slowly as to vastly outlive optical and magnetic media, would be supremely useful for archival data storage.

I can't believe you guys... (1)

urusan (1755332) | about 4 years ago | (#31958454)

Everyone is treating this like a joke, but really this is wonderful news.

Sure, it's been done before...and their tiny 3D map and model of the Matterhorn are not particularly useful, but it was just a demonstration.

The key here is the relative simplicity of their "nano-milling" machine. This idea could lead to some serious advances in cheap nanoscale fabrication in the next few decades. It could mean that it won't be just labs with hugely expensive equipment that get to play around with nanoscale structures...not to mention the potential industrial applications.

Team up with Google maps (1)

dmcq (809030) | more than 3 years ago | (#31959924)

I'd like to see a Google Maps version, at 1 pixel per meter squared. At 40000 Km for the earths circumference and 15nm resolution I make that as giving a 60cm wide map. Now that's the right size and you could use an electron microscope to inspect any point. I suppose it is too small for colour, I wonder what one could do about that. Next step a 3D world at the resolution of Google streetmap!
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