World's Smallest Magnet Made From A Single Atom Developed

First Posted: Mar 10, 2017 04:10 AM EST

Researchers at IBM developed the world's smallest magnet that was made from a single atom. This magnet could be used to store a single bit of data.

The discovery was described in the journal Nature. This could ultimately reduce the size of magnetic storage media. IBM said that if the technique could commercialize their single-atom approach, it would store massive data such as the Apple's iTunes library of songs or something small like the credit card.

The team utilized the IBM-invented, Nobel prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope to expound this technology and manipulate holmium atoms that were placed on a magnesium oxide. This is to make the magnetic poles constant. Then, the team employed electric current to the microscope's probe to alter the magnetic orientation of the atom between two states. This could be used to on/off states for a single bit of data, as noted by the researchers. Meanwhile, the team gauged the magnetic current that passed in the atom to read the state, according to

Christopher Lutz, a nanoscience researcher at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, explained that magnetic bits lie at the heart of hard disk drives, tape and next-generation magnetic memory. He further said that they conducted this research to understand what happens when one shrinks technology down to the most fundamental extreme -- the atomic scale.

The team showed how the reading and writing of a bit of information to the atom using electric current occurred. Each magnetic atom could be read and written even though each was unattached by just one nanometer, which is a distance that is only a millionth the width of a pinhead. This smallest magnet also has a north and south magnetic pole, but it consists of just a single atom of the element holmium, according to Venture Beat.

Andreas Heinrich, a scientist for the Institute of Basic Science (IBS) in Korea and former IBM Research scientist, said that it does not get any smaller than a single atom. The storage feat is about one bit on one magnetic atom. He further said that they are excited about the potential for dramatically different storage that is firmer and sturdier than anything they have previously seen.

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