Image above:Sebastian Loth/CFELTHE GIST
- Scientists have built a magnetic storage device made of 96 atoms.
- The advance could lead to tiny hard drives able to store 200 to 300 times more information than they can today.
Each pair of rows has two possible magnetic states, representing the classical 0 and 1 of binary computer data. An electric pulse from the STM tip flips the magnetic configuration from one to the other. A weaker pulse was used to read it.
“What this shows is you have all the ingredients for storing information on an antiferromagnetic grain,” said Matthias Bode, an experimental physics professor at the University of Würzburg, who was not involved in the research.
It will be some time before this technology is used in a hard drive for a computer, as there are a few problems that still have to be overcome. First, this hard drive was built atom-by-atom, using an STM — an impractical and slow method for manufacturing.
Secondly, the storage of the information — the magnetic state — is only stable at very cold temperatures, about 5 degrees above absolute zero. Warmer than that and the spins of the atoms get jostled.
Bode said that finding a material that works at room temperature isn’t impossible. What material will work, however, remains to be seen.
Loth noted there are lots of other materials to experiment with that are known to hold antiferromagnetic states at room temperature. “This isn’t like superconductors, where we are looking for ways to boost the critical temperature,” Loth said. “We know that antiferromagnetic materials are stable.”
This work is also important because it demonstrated for the scientists how few atoms they could use before the effects of quantum mechanics took over. It turns out that twelve atoms are the minimum number required. Fewer than that and quantum effects begin the mess around with the stored information.
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