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Not flipping out

Scientists have shown for the first time how single atoms may be able to magnetically encode single bits of information.

Hard disks store data by magnetizing small domains of a disk's surface so that the magnetic axis points in one of two opposing directions. Each orientation is stable because the domain's energy is at a minimum. Such stability helps keep the magnetic axis from wandering, which would corrupt the data.

To fit more data onto a surface, engineers would like to shrink the domains, working toward the ultimate limit of single atoms. But reliable data storage would still require energy-minimizing orientations to prevent random flips.

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