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Supersmall device uses individual atoms to store data

Blocks and rows of chlorine atoms encode words

By
7:00am, August 15, 2016
close-up of storage device with key for letters

ATOMIC CODE  Scientists manipulated chlorine atoms on a supersmall device to store an excerpt from a 1959 Richard Feynman lecture (a portion shown above with each letter translated).

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These orderly patterns of dark blue dots indicate where individual chlorine atoms are missing from an otherwise regular grid of atoms. Scientists manipulated these vacancies to create a supersmall data storage device.

The locations of vacancies encode bits of information in the device, which Sander Otte of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and colleagues describe July 18 in Nature Nanotechnology. The team arranged and imaged the vacancies using a scanning tunneling microscope. The storage system, which can hold a kilobyte of data, must be cooled to a chilly −196° Celsius to work.

To demonstrate the technique, the researchers transcribed an excerpt from a famous 1959 lecture by physicist Richard Feynman, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” which predicted the importance of nanotechnology. In each block, paired rows represent letters. Blocks marked with an “X” were unusable. The encoded 159 words of text  fill a region a ten-thousandth of a millimeter wide.

If scaled up, the researchers say, the technology could store the full contents of the U.S. Library of Congress in a cube a tenth of a millimeter on each side. 

Committing Feynman to atomic memory

This supersmall data storage device records its information with individual chlorine atoms. As a proof of concept, researchers encoded part of a 1959 lecture by Richard Feynman on nanotechnology. In the image below, blocks contain paired rows, which represent letters. 

Click or tap image to enlarge

Courtesy of TU Delft
Citations

F. E. Kalff et al. A kilobyte rewritable atomic memory. Nature Nanotechnology. Published online July 18, 2016. doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.131.

R.P. Feynman. There’s plenty of room at the bottom. Engineering and Science. Vol. 23, February 1960, p.22.

Further Reading

A. Grant. Memory upgrade. Science News. Vol. 184, October 19, 2013, p. 28.

A. Grant. Weird materials could make faster computers. Science News. Vol. 186, August 23, 2014, p. 8.

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