Wednesday, August 29, 2007

IBM Cites Breakthroughs in Nano Storage, Molecular-level Switching

IBM announced two major scientific breakthroughs in the field of nanotechnology that could have significant impact in digital communications. The basic research is being publishing in two reports by the journal Science.

The first discovery concerns a property called magnetic anisotropy, which concerns an atom's ability to store information. Until now, nobody has been able to measure the magnetic anisotropy of a single atom. Using IBM's special scanning tunneling microscope (STM), researchers were able to manipulate individual iron atoms and arrange them with atomic precision on a specially prepared copper surface. The researchers then determined the orientation and strength of the magnetic anisotropy of the individual iron atoms.

With further work it may be possible to build structures consisting of small clusters of atoms, or even individual atoms, that could reliably store magnetic information.

IBM calculates that digital storage based on magnetic anisotropy would enable nearly 30,000 feature length movies or the entire contents of YouTube -- millions of videos estimated to be more than 1,000 trillion bits of data -- to fit in a device the size of an iPod.

IBM also predicts the breakthrough could 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 the second report, IBM researchers unveiled the first single-molecule switch that can operate flawlessly without disrupting the molecule's outer frame -- a significant step toward building computing elements at the molecular scale that are vastly smaller, faster and use less energy than today's computer chips and memory devices.

In addition to switching within a single molecule, the researchers also demonstrated that atoms inside one molecule can be used to switch atoms in an adjacent molecule, representing a rudimentary logic element. This is made possible partly because the molecular framework is not disturbed.