I’ve always been a big fan of Claymation—those deft stop-action films made frame by painstaking frame, as the creators mold and adjust pieces of clay. Now, IBM scientists have taken the method one step further, creating a stop-action atomic movie using a scanning-tunneling microscope to arrange individual carbon-monoxide molecules on a copper substrate. A Boy and His Atom contains 242 frames.
The system uses piezoelectric crystals to adjust the position of a copper-tipped indium wire. At a standard gap, the STM merely images the surface. When the needle is in close enough proximity to the surface, however, it applies enough force to drag the molecule from one position to another.
The work represents a more whimsical application of the technology behind IBM’s 12-atom-per-bit memory announced last year.