Magnetic spin breakthrough to boost data storage

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IBM researchers have used special scanning tunneling microscope (STM) techniques to manipulate individual iron atoms and arrange them with atomic precision on a specially prepared copper surface. They then determined the orientation and strength of the magnetic anisotropy of the individual iron atoms.

Anisotropy is an important property for data storage because it determines whether or not a magnet can maintain a specific orientation. This in turn allows the magnet to represent either a ‘1’ or ‘0’ – the basis for storing data in computers. “One of the major challenges for the IT industry today is shrinking the bit size used for data storage to the smallest possible features, while increasing the capacity,” said Gian-Luca Bona, manager of science and technology at the IBM Almaden Research Center. “We are working at the ultimate edge of what is possible – and are now one step closer to figuring out how to store data at the atomic level. Understanding the specific magnetic properties of atoms is the cornerstone of progressing toward new, more efficient ways to store data.” IBM says that, with further work, it may be possible to build structures consisting of small clusters of atoms, or even individual atoms, that could reliably store magnetic information. Such a storage capability, it believes, would enable nearly 30,000 feature length movies – more than 1Pbit (10^15bit) of data – to fit in a device the size of an iPod.