Scientists from IBM Research have demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms. This is significantly less than today's disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information.
While silicon transistor technology has become cheaper, denser and more
efficient, fundamental physical limitations suggest this path of conventional
scaling is unsustainable. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the
rapid pace of computing innovation. By taking a novel approach and beginning at
the smallest unit of data storage, the atom, scientists demonstrated magnetic
storage that is at least 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and
solid state memory chips. Future applications of nanostructures built one atom
at a time, and that apply an unconventional form of magnetism called
antiferromagnetism, could allow people and businesses to store 100 times more
information in the same space.
“The chip industry will continue its pursuit of incremental scaling in
semiconductor technology but, as components continue to shrink, the march
continues to the inevitable end point: the atom. We’re taking the opposite
approach and starting with the smallest unit -- single atoms -- to build
computing devices one atom at a time.” said Andreas Heinrich, the lead
investigator into atomic storage at IBM Research – Almaden, in California.
Scanning tunneling microscope image shows a group of 12 iron atoms forming magnetic memory bit. Source: IBM
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.
This article was first posted by EE Times Europe, a sister publication to EE Times.
The practicality of any new technology like this will come down to how do design and manufacture it in volume production. But you have to keep pushing the envelope many years in advance to give time for the practical issues to work themselves out.
It is hard to believe a laptop hard drive can contain an STM array with such a precision. What I heard is that the whole purpose of this group at Almaden is to showcase how cool IBM is. None of their previous work, such as writing "IBM" using gold atoms on silicon, has turned into real world product.
Moore's Law isn't a law, it is a performance challenge - like the 4 minute (running) mile. Because computing devices are so ubiquitous in our world, there is a great economic incentive to continue shrinking physical dimensions and improving performance. That determination results in unexpected breakthroughs and new ways of looking at old solutions which continue the innovation. After the physical limits within devices are met, will the Internet cloud be utilized to continue shrinking devices and increasing their performance?
This is really cool research. I'm sure there will be plenty of challenges as they move from research to product development, but they will enjoy every minute. Thanks for letting us in to see what is going on.
What interesting work is done at the Almaden research center!
Together with the Higgs particle news I think this years have been very important for physics and in this particular, for the semiconductor industry.
Looks like we're preparing for when we hit the Moores curve end however, even an atom is limited in size... I wonder what would be next after that? I wonder where will information be stored once it no longer fits our universe? will it be stored in parallel dimensions (string theory)?
The research gem of the semiconductor industry keeps forging ahead to lead electronics into a new era on the microscopic level. There should be more research done cooperatively for the sake of getting to end goals faster. There are many surprises awaiting in the bottom-up approach for building nano devices and searching for those gems will be easier if more scientists and engineers pool their resources.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.