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IBM Develops Technology That Could Store Data In Atoms

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the wee-little-pcs dept.

IBM 53

InfoWorldMike passed us a link to a story at his site about a way to perform computer functions on the atomic level. IBM has pioneered the process at their Almaden Research lab in California. Essentially, researchers detect 'magnetic anisotropy, a property of the magnetic field that gives it the ability to maintain a particular direction'. Since the process allows the detection of the 'direction' individual atoms are facing, this is the first step towards the ones and zeroes used in binary. "In a second report, researchers at IBM's lab in Zurich, Switzerland, said they had used an individual molecule as an electric switch that could potentially replace the transistors used in modern chips. The company published both research reports in Friday's edition of the journal Science.The new technologies are at least 10 years from being used for components in commercial products, but the discoveries will allow scientists to take a large step forward in their quest to replace silicon, said IBM spokesman Matthew McMahon."

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typo (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430009)

its develops.
also, f1rst p0st!

ibm developeers do amazing work (0, Offtopic)

Surt (22457) | about 7 years ago | (#20430021)

reeally astoundeing stuffe.

Poll: But what do we call this new memory? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430033)

0. Memorytechoftheweek

1. Atomic memory

2. Blue memory

3. CowboyNeal memory

4. Ninja memory

5. Beowulf memory

6. CmdrTaco memory

Thanks. I'll be here all week!

Anonymous Coward Sig 2.0:
Madonna is the the best artist in the world! The others are devoid of any talent! The RIAA should only help record labels sue anyone who downloads Madonna music.

All I know is that (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | about 7 years ago | (#20430935)

I'll finally be able to fit every episode of "Dr. Who" [] onto one disc!!

editorsdonotedit (1)

evanbd (210358) | about 7 years ago | (#20430097)

You would think it would be embarrassing to have tags like that on the front page. But, somehow, the slashdot editors don't seem to care.

Re:editorsdonotedit (2, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | about 7 years ago | (#20430127)

I would think they'd have an automated process to spell check the titles so they could not care and not get well deserved rounds of criticism.

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (5, Funny)

forkazoo (138186) | about 7 years ago | (#20430131)

reeally astoundeing stuffe.

Some people may be confused by similar words:

developeer: a person who is a member of a non-hierarchical development group. in practice, some developeers are more equal than others.

develope: Related to an Antelope, but with Satanic horns. (The spelling is archaic)

developes: "The Envelopes" ("Da Evelopes") as spoken of by a Chicago native with a terrible case of the sniffles.

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (1)

Surt (22457) | about 7 years ago | (#20430139)

Thanks. I considered trying to work in a definition of developeer somehow, but decided to go for succinct. I like your version.

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (1)

mikael (484) | about 7 years ago | (#20430293)

Developeur could do with a definition - a person who develops applications with initiative and great personal risk.

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (2, Funny)

Beetle B. (516615) | about 7 years ago | (#20430157)

Actually, I read it as an IBM Dev Eloping with Technology...

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (1)

Surt (22457) | about 7 years ago | (#20430325)

Now I'm slightly baffled that the front page title has developes, while the story has been corrected to develops. Caching issue on firefox, or are they really not the same text?

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (1)

PingPongBoy (303994) | about 7 years ago | (#20430395)

Oh yes. On the roadmap is the technology to help us dance on the heads of pins.

Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20432267)

what happens if the atoms get fragmented?


Re:ibm developeers do amazing work (1)

Surt (22457) | about 7 years ago | (#20436991)

Note to mods and metamods: this was ontopic and funny when the title was 'ibm developes ...', but the title later got corrected.

really crappy sci fi (2, Interesting)

netsavior (627338) | about 7 years ago | (#20430025)

I read really crappy sci-fi one time where humans moved to more and more obscure and technical means to store data, untill eventually they were making notches in neutrons. Since the technology to read/write it was so expensive, they just centralized it. The machine broke and all the data needed to fix it was stored on a few atoms in a vault with no way to read it.

I know it is "dimestore" technology alarmist camp, but I thought it was funny that this story is comming true. Anyone know the name of this story??

Re:really crappy sci fi (2, Informative)

hidannik (1085061) | about 7 years ago | (#20430083)

Ms Fnd in a Lbry [] by Hal Draper.

Notched quanta, it was.


Re:really crappy sci fi (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | about 7 years ago | (#20437935)

Very cool (actually, it was "notched electron" and further reduced to "chipped quantum", and then later "nudged quanta"!). The wikipedia article has a link to the full text [] (written in 1961), as well.

From it:

[...] all of which were producing *books* in torrents.

How ahead of his time he was! :)

I also liked this gem:

[...] whole branches of knowledge could for the first time be put in a nutshell.

And, wow: he even envisioned Google, over 30 years before it came into existence (emphasis mine):

The position was well put indeed in a famous speech by Jzbl to the graduates of the Central Saturnian University, when he said that it was a source of great pride to him that although hardly anybody knew anything any longer, everybody now knew how to find out everything.

Re:really crappy sci fi (2, Funny)

Associate (317603) | about 7 years ago | (#20430331)

Hey, as long as Windows doesn't crash the universe...

Fix the fucking title of this article you cretins (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430053)

Fucking morons. You'll never leave Slashdot because you're all unemployable in the real world. GET A FUCKING DICTIONARY AND FIX THE TITLE!!!

Re:Fix the fucking title of this article you creti (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430339)

But I like it here.

Might want to check with NVE Corp. (1)

saildude (986846) | about 7 years ago | (#20430077)

They already hold most of the patents for spintronics. []

Re:Might want to check with NVE Corp. (1)

Associate (317603) | about 7 years ago | (#20430435)

But matter has more subatomic properties than spin by which data can be stored.
There's always more than one way to skin a cat.

Re:Might want to check with NVE Corp. (1)

ijakings (982830) | about 7 years ago | (#20435047)

There's always more than one way to spin a cat.

Fixed that for ya

Zonke, you'ree ae fuckeing ideiot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430087)


Hm. (1)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | about 7 years ago | (#20430151)

For some reason, this procedure makes me think of magnetic resonance imaging. I can't really seem to exactly pinpoint why that is, however, and I think the link I'm imagining might be totally specious.

Re:Hm. (1)

RichardEasterling (1123929) | about 7 years ago | (#20430613)

I am not sure of the process that IBM uses, but.. MRI utilizes a large magnetic field to energize the molecules in your body that are polarized (water) into the same direction. The machine then uses radiant energy (microwaves) to excite the polarized molecules (water) thus causing them to wobble off their axis. When the radiant energy (microwaves) is turned off the polarized molecules' "wobble" starts to decay such that the molecule will reline with the large magnetic field thus releasing the extra energy that was gained in the form of radio waves (microwaves). Microwave antennas are positioned around the part being imaged to receive the radio waves. Large computers reconstruct the data to form an image. By the way MRI rooms are shielded with a feriday cage to prevent normal microwave energy from interfering with the signal coming from the patient.

is this the same reason (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 7 years ago | (#20430175)

Is this the same thing which is holding galaxies in a certain direction?

Is the universe binary?

Re:is this the same reason (1)

Macrosoft0 (1128625) | about 7 years ago | (#20431303)

yes, it is binary. god left you a message written in the galaxies themselves: "your fly is open"

I thought... (1)

OakDragon (885217) | about 7 years ago | (#20430201) was already stored in atoms?

Re:I thought... (2, Funny)

MBCook (132727) | about 7 years ago | (#20430319)

Only in Lisp.

Re:I thought... (1)

OakDragon (885217) | about 7 years ago | (#20430457)

I thought data was already stored in atoms?

Only in Lisp.

I could pretend that I was making a subtle reference to Lisp, but I'm giving you the prize. LOL, as the kids say.

Re:I thought... (1)

DahGhostfacedFiddlah (470393) | about 7 years ago | (#20431471)

True - one of the earliest attempts can be seen in uncompressed images stored on cave walls - walls made entirely of atoms!

Downside... (3, Funny)

nick_davison (217681) | about 7 years ago | (#20430211)

It sucks when buffer overflows can go critical.

Think you hated blue screens of death? Wait until you have to deal with a blue mushroom cloud of actual death.

IBM Developes Technology That Could... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430233)

...check spelling. But they realised that nobody wanted it, so went back to mainframes and junk.

dadgummit (2, Interesting)

schwaang (667808) | about 7 years ago | (#20430351)

I remember when Bubble memory [] was the next big thing.
We had 16K RAM and we liked it.

Why just binary? (1)

Dakkus (567781) | about 7 years ago | (#20430353)

It strikes me odd, that data still seems to be stored in binary form, although it would be possible storing for example zeroes, ones, twos and threes and then converting that stuff to binary form. If it is possible pointing the atoms at more directions than just two (why would it be limited to precisely two?), they could store dramatically more information with the same amount of data. Also the data could be read faster, when you could fit the information of two bits into one. Or the information of three bits into two, whatever. Depends on how many different ways you can turn the atoms / magnetize the disk surface.

Or is this actually being done all the time and talking about the data being in binary form on the disk is just a stupid simplification?

Re:Why just binary? (1)

d12v10 (1046686) | about 7 years ago | (#20430439)

Not sure how it works in QM, but it becomes exponentially more difficult to manage and transmit and read when it becomes trinary. There is a lot more accuracy required for an "in between" state, and our hardware would probably need to double in size to handle it.

Re:Why just binary? (2, Informative)

Bob of Dole (453013) | about 7 years ago | (#20430461)

Yeah, that's the main reason. Binary is nice because you have the largest possible range between values, so the actual value drifting (0.8 is obviously 1, and 0.2 is obviously 0) doesn't cause much trouble.
Adding more states makes it much more likely that a 0 will turn into a 1, or a 1 might turn into a 2.

Re:Why just binary? (1)

Associate (317603) | about 7 years ago | (#20430473)

I was thinking the same thing. You could go trinary with XYZ alignments. Or if it had a vector in one of those three, bump it up to base-6. BUT if you could determine the multitude of directions possible referencing a key atom, the limit would again be at the discreetness of the detector as it is now with the read/write head.

electron spin? (3, Insightful)

sowth (748135) | about 7 years ago | (#20430629)

From what it sounded to me, they were using the direction of the spin of the electrons [] to hold the information. There are only two directions, so that is why you only get binary. I suppose if you found a way to read the spin of each individual electron, you'd be able to store mulitple bits per atom. And yes, this is new (certainly for computers), as currently there are two types of RAM used most of the time: SRAM and DRAM.

SRAM [] uses only transistors to store the data. This takes several components, so it is very big and expensive, but also very fast. DRAM [] uses a capacitor to store the data and a transistor to select it. This only requires two components, but accessing the capacitor is slower and the capacitor slowly loses the charge, so it has to be refreshed within a certain amount of time, or the data it holds will be lost. Both of those require components which at minimum will be several atoms big, so creating a memory cell the size of an atom will most certainly reduce the size of RAM.

There is also trinary systems [] . This is probably what you where trying to get at. I have heard of RAM based on trinary, but I don't know if it is in use yet. I don't think it would work here as there are only two directions the electron spins. The trinary RAM I think is based on having the capacitor with either a positive voltage, negative voltage or no voltage across it. That is what gives the three possible states. With a capacitor, you could have more, but you'd have to use analog style circuits and probably higher refresh rates, which would mean higher failure rates and other problems.

That is a very simple explanation from what I know, and technically there are other types of RAM, but hopefully it gave you an idea what is going on.

Re:electron spin? (1)

g33k5p34k (1150575) | about 7 years ago | (#20432649)

I highly doubt the article is talking about using electron spin to store data. For every spin up electron, there has to be a spin down electron to counter its spin, unless we're talking about materials with an unpaired electron. We need more information before we speculate

Re:electron spin? (1)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 6 years ago | (#20455985)

In an atomic orbital, yes. Spintronics doesn't use electrons in orbitals.

Atoms are so passé (1)

ATestR (1060586) | about 7 years ago | (#20430385)

I'm going to develop a method of storing data on quarks, for really high data storage density!

Re:Atoms are so passé (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | about 7 years ago | (#20431835)

Quarks are heavy, and there are only so many of them. Better to use neutrinos.

Re:Atoms are so passé (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | about 7 years ago | (#20432567)

what are you talking about! Tachyons are the way to the future!

this is nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20430531)

Good: scientists have found how we can store vast quantities of data

Bad: we won't be able to find where we put the damn stuff

This pretty much describes the system I use today.

AFM / STM storage (1)

ndg123 (801212) | about 7 years ago | (#20431829)

I think they've been hoping for molecule- or atom-sized storage for a while, since they invented the STM and the AFM. The STM or AFM probe was used to 'write' on the surface as well as read it. I think one of the problems they had there was physical control of the probe - I'm not sure how this would be any different. Fixing the whole system to a very low temperature helps since you eliminate thermal effects. I used to do room temperature AFM and STM and it was a pain if someone opened the door to your lab and changed the temperature, or if you spent too long holding your sample or STM probe so it spent some time heating up and cooling again.

old news (1)

jjcast (1150535) | about 7 years ago | (#20431979)

This is old news. They have been prototyping this concept since 2000.

new buzzword (1)

codermaniac (1084611) | about 7 years ago | (#20432629)

atomic computing

Re:new buzzword (1)

g33k5p34k (1150575) | about 7 years ago | (#20432775)

actually, the term quantum computing was coined LONG ago by using the quantum properties of superposition to create "qubits", which are quantum bits

WTF (humor) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20433257)

WTF else were they supposed to develop storage in - anti-matter?
I mean come on - what ISN'T atomic in our world ;-)

...and it's only "Ten years away"! (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 7 years ago | (#20433513)

Sorry for sounding like a jaded old hack but that phrase is getting old.

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