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12-atom magnetic memory beats HDD

Posted: 17 Jan 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:atomic magnetic memory? antiferromagnetism? nanostructure? scanning tunneling microscope?

IBM Research scientists have pushed the limits of nanotechnology with a recent storage technology. According to them, they have created the world's smallest magnetic memory bit. They have demoed the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms, which is significantly less than HDDs that use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information.

While silicon transistor technology has become cheaper, denser and more efficient, fundamental physical limitations suggest this path of conventional scaling is unsustainable. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the rapid pace of computing innovation. By taking a novel approach and beginning at the smallest unit of data storage, the atom, scientists demonstrated magnetic storage that is at least 100 times denser than today's HDDs and solid state memory chips. Future applications of nanostructures built one atom at a time, and that apply an unconventional form of magnetism called antiferromagnetism, could allow people and businesses to store 100 times more information in the same space.

atomic magnetic memory

Scanning tunneling microscope image shows a group of 12 iron atoms forming magnetic memory bit. (Source: IBM)

"The chip industry will continue its pursuit of incremental scaling in semiconductor technology but, as components continue to shrink, the march continues to the inevitable end point: the atom. We're taking the opposite approach and starting with the smallest unitsingle atomsto build computing devices one atom at a time," noted Andreas Heinrich, the lead investigator into atomic storage at IBM Research.

The scientists at IBM Research used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to atomically engineer a grouping of 12 antiferromagnetically coupled atoms that stored a bit of data for hours at low temperatures. Taking advantage of their inherent alternating magnetic spin directions, they demonstrated the ability to pack adjacent magnetic bits much closer together than was previously possible. This greatly increased the magnetic storage density without disrupting the state of neighboring bits.

- Julien Happich
??EE Times

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