Researchers in San Jose have been spending twelve years studying the behavior atoms. Using a highly refined scanning tunneling microscope he IBM team has been able to unravel how long information remains in a single atom. This, they believe, will be the key to developing even more refined ways of storing data, smaller than anything we can possibly imagine. Their size will be measured in atoms.

It still needs more work. By recording the behavior inside atoms spinning at incredible speeds they have been able to determine, for example, that an iron atom retains information for about one nanosecond, or a billionth of a second. While that’s not enough time to do much, they have also discovered that atoms react differently when other atoms, even non-magnetized are moved next to them. By moving another atom closer to the orginal iron atom, for instance, they have been able to increase its memory span by a factor of 200.

By toying with and testing different configurations, scientists Andreas Heinrich and Sebastian Loth, hope to eventually develop practical data storage techniques using atoms. These, they say, would be smaller than anything we have today and increase the memory by many orders of magnitude. In practical, layman’s terms, the iPod that could once store a few gigabytes of music may soon have a storage capacity measured in terabytes—enough to store every piece of music ever written. 

The implications for scientific advances are vast as well. What is becoming clear is that smaller is, indeed, bigger.
Read More at ABC 7.