IBM shrinks magnetic storage to just 12 atoms

January 13, 2012 // 12:01 p.m.

Tags: #almaden #antiferromagnet #antiferromagnetism #data-density #ibm #ibm-research #magnetic-storage #research #storage

Scientists working at IBM Research's Almaden facility have released details of a new breakthrough in magnetic storage: a memory bit just 12 atoms wide, around a hundred times the density of today's storage systems.

Using an unconventional form of magnetism known as 'antiferromagnetism,' the team of researchers have been able to create an experimental magnetic memory device twelve atoms in size; blowing past Moore's Law - the observation of component density doubling roughly every two years originally made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in a 1965 paper on integrated circuits - and paving the way for exascale storage systems in the future.

Unlike traditional magnetism, where nearby magnets are all polarised in the same direction, antiferromagnets alternate between north-polarisation and south-polarisation; as a result, it's possible to pack them significantly closer together than with traditional ferromagnets.

Offering a density some one hundred times greater than today's magnetic hard-drives or solid-state storage chips, IBM's breakthrough paves the way for future exascale storage systems with discs holding upwards of 200TB each.

Before you get too excited, however, there's a catch: the technology is far from simple to implement. IBM's prototype involves extremely low temperatures - around half a degree above absolute zero for maximum stability - and the use of an expensive scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) probe to flip the magnetic state of each antiferromagnet. As a result, it's unlikely we'll be seeing the technology hit the consumer market any time soon.

As a concept, however, IBM's work eclipses that of other teams working on similar projects; and, given time, could redefine storage as we know it.

Are you impressed to see just how small IBM can go, or will it take the technology appearing on the shelves of your local PC World before you get excited? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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