Computers are getting smaller. Processors are getting smaller. Why shouldn’t hard drives get smaller, too? Don’t worry – IBM’s working on it. Late last week, the company announced that its researchers had “successfully demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms.” In comparison, it takes close to a million atoms for current HDDs to store a bit. Apparently, being dense is a good thing!
We’d paraphrase the technology for you, but we’d probably butcher the technical details, so here’s a description straight from the horse’s mouth:
The scientists at IBM Research used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to atomically engineer a grouping of twelve antiferromagnetically coupled atoms that stored a bit of data for hours at low temperatures. Taking advantage of their inherent alternating magnetic spin directions, they demonstrated the ability to pack adjacent magnetic bits much closer together than was previously possible. This greatly increased the magnetic storage density without disrupting the state of neighboring bits.