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Single-atom magnets store bits of data

Holmium-based technology could lead to smaller hard drives

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4:25pm, March 20, 2017
holmium atoms

ATOMIC BIT  Scientists stored data using individual atoms of holmium (shown above). Each 0 or 1 is encoded using the orientation of the atom’s magnetic field.

NEW ORLEANS — ­The tiniest electronic gadgets have nothing on a new data-storage device. Each bit is encoded using the magnetic field of a single atom — making for extremely compact data storage, although researchers have stored only two bits of data so far.

“If you can make your bit smaller, you can store more information,” physicist Fabian Natterer of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland said March 16 at a meeting of the American Physical Society. Natterer and colleagues also reported the result in the March 9 Nature.

Natterer and colleagues created the minuscule magnetic bits using atoms of holmium deposited on a surface of magnesium oxide. The direction of each atom’s magnetic field served as the 1 or 0 of a bit, depending on whether its

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