San Jose (CA) – IBM researchers today said that they were able to probe magnetic anisotropy in individual atoms, potentially opening the development of a new kind of data storage devices. In another announcement, the company unveiled a single-molecule switch that is expected to lead the way toward smaller, faster and more energy-efficient semiconductors.
According to IBM, technologies described today (with further details being provided in two papers scheduled for publication in Science tomorrow) could be significant milestones in developing single-atom data storage devices and molecular computers.
In its first report, IBM scientists describe progress in probing a property called magnetic anisotropy in individual atoms. This fundamental measurement is believed to have a substantial impact on technology as it determines an atom’s ability to store information. Previously, nobody had been able to measure the magnetic anisotropy of a single atom. Down the road, the company believes that it may be possible to build structures consisting of small clusters of atoms (or individual atoms) that could store magnetic information.
And, according to IBM, this technology could provide lots of storage capacity: “Nearly” 30,000 feature length movies or the entire contents of YouTube could fit in a device the size of an iPod, the firm said.
The development could also lead to “new kinds of structures and devices that are so small they could be applied to entire new fields and disciplines beyond traditional computing.”
In their second report, IBM researchers outline the first single-molecule switch that is claimed to be able to operate flawlessly without disrupting the molecule’s outer frame, which is a step toward building molecule-sized computing elements that are expected to be substantially smaller, faster and use less energy than today’s computer chips and memory devices – IBM is envisioning these devices to be as fast as today’s supercomputer
Switches inside computer chips act like a light switch to turn the flow of electrons on and off and, when put together, make up the logic gates, which in turn make up electrical circuits. Having ever smaller switches allows the circuits to be shrunk to ever smaller sizes, making it possible to pack more circuits into a processor and boosting speed and performance, the company said.
IBM did not indicate when these technologies could be commercially available.