To explain how much storage capacity IBM's new breakthroughs in nanotech might mean somewhere down the line, IBM said that storing data on small clusters or individual atoms could mean that almost 30,000 feature-length movies, or all of the millions of videos on YouTube, could be stored on a device the size of an iPod..
If you already think your fingers are too big for some of today's small electronic devices, you likely won't be happy to know that new discoveries from IBM could make such devices much, much smaller and more powerful.
On Thursday, the Armonk, New York-based company announced what it called "two major scientific breakthroughs." Its researchers took a big step toward figuring out how to get individual atoms to hold a specific magnetic direction, which would allow them to store data. And they got closer to developing a logic switch between molecules, and even between individual atoms inside a molecule, which could lead to molecular or submolecular processors.
The research, detailed in two reports in the journal Science, does not mean that we'll soon be seeing a supercomputer the size of a grain of sand. But the research does take several important steps in that direction.
All YouTube Videos on an iPod
The work toward getting a single atom to store data involves measuring a property called magnetic anisotropy, which is how well an atom can maintain a specific orientation, representing the one or zero used in digital storage. The company said that, before the new breakthrough, no one had been able to successfully measure the magnetic anisotropy of individual atoms.
To understand how much storage capacity that could mean, it would be best if you were sitting down. IBM said that storing data on small clusters or individual atoms could mean that almost 30,000 feature-length movies, or all of the millions of videos on YouTube, could be stored on a device the size of an iPod.
"We are now one step closer to figuring out how to store data at the atomic level," said Gian-Luca Bona, an IBM manager of science and technology.
Speck of Dust
In addition to highlighting the storage breakthroughs, the researchers pointed the way to enormous processing power in extremely small sizes by developing a single-molecule switch that "can operate flawlessly without disrupting the molecule's outer frame."
Keeping the outer molecule intact is a critical advance of the new research. Among other things, it enabled researchers to use atoms inside one molecule to switch atoms in another, nearby molecule -- a basic logic switch. Earlier research at IBM and other labs has been able to switch inside single molecules, but it always changed their shape -- something you don't want to do if you're building logic gates or memory elements.
If single-atom storage didn't take your breath away, consider submolecular switches as the basis for logic gates and electrical circuits. IBM said some researchers speculate that such miniaturization could mean computer chips as small as a speck of dust.
While shopping for the fastest new piece of dust on the market is still some years away, researchers are moving on to the next step for the switches -- building a circuit, and then figuring out how to create a chip.