Industry

01/12/2012 - IBM smashes Moore's Law, cuts bit size to 12 atoms


By Lucas Mearian, Computerworld

IBM announced Thursday that after five years of work, its researchers have been able to reduce from about one million to 12 the number of atoms required to create a bit of data.

The breakthrough may someday allow data storage hardware manufacturers to produce products with capacities that are orders of magnitude greater than today's hard disk and flash drives.

"Looking at this conservatively ... instead of 1TB on a device, you'd have 100TB to 150TB. Instead of being able to store all your songs on a drive, you'd be able to have all your videos on the device," said Andreas Heinrich, IBM Research Staff Member and lead investigator on this project.

Today, storage devices use ferromagnetic materials where the spin of atoms are aligned or in the same direction.

The IBM researchers used an unconventional form of magnetism called antiferromagnetism, where atoms spin in opposite directions, allowing scientists to create an experimental atomic-scale magnet memory that is at least 100 times denser than today's hard disk drives and solid-state memory chips.

The technology could also someday be applied to tape media.

While the science behind what IBM researchers accomplished is complex, the results are quite simple: They put a spin on the old adage that "opposites attract."

Instead today's method for magnetic storage where iron atoms are lined up with the same magnetic polarization, requiring greater distance between them, IBM created atoms with opposite magnetization, pulling them more tightly together.

"Moore's Law is basically the drive of the industry to shrink components down little by little and then solve the engineering challenges that go along with that but keeping the basic concepts the same. The basic concepts of magnetic data storage or even transistors haven't really changed over the past 20 years," Heinrich said. "The ultimate end of Moore's Law is a single atom. That's where we come in."

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