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Atoms by the Dozen

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IBM has just made a huge advance in atomic-scale magnetic memory. The MacBook I am typing this story on stores one bit of data in about 1 million atoms. With IBM’s new atomic-scale magnetic memory, 12 is the new million. The nanotechnology breakthrough will lead to storage that is 100 times more dense than today’s hard disk drives. IBM said that an entire music and movie collection could fit on a charm-sized pendant you wear around your neck. Hard drives have continually improved in storage and cost, but the current technology is running into physical limitations. Scientists at IBM Research have been working  at the atomic scale for decades, but only recently has it advanced to the point that it looks like their work will produce the ultimate memory chips of the future. Operating at incredibly cold temperatures, the IBM researchers have been able to manipulate 12 atoms into what they describe as a stable magnetic storage unit. Once a manufacturing technique is devised, putting many millions of atoms together will result in a highly energy-efficient, no-moving-parts, storage system capable of changing the way we think of information. For many people, today’s storage capacity is more than adequate, but the deluge of data from video, GPS locations, sensors, and social media interactions will demand significantly more storage capacity in the near future.  IBM says that everyday we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. The rate of increasing data creation is so fast that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

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