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IBM reports atomic storage progress

IBM has reported two discoveries in its ongoing work in nanotechnology, both of which have implications for data storage of almost unimaginably tiny proportions.

According to a Reuters report, scientists at IBM reported yesterday that they have determined how to move the magnetic orientation of an atom, a key step toward using atoms as tiny storage devices. Each atom has a magnetic field that needs to be stabilized somehow before it can be used as the basis for a storage system where “bits” are not magnetized particles, as they are today, but atoms themselves.

IBM scientists in Zurich also announced that they have successfully “switched” the polarity of molecules, another key to computing on an atomic level. Currently, computer systems rely on the ability to “flip” magnetic particles to represent the ones and zeros of binary code. Being able to do the same with molecules, or even atoms, could eventually lead to microscopic computers, and breakthroughs in density on the order of 30,000 movies on an iPod, according to the researchers.

IBM’s not the only organization currently working on theoretical physics that’ll give you an ice-cream headache. Research revealed in July from the University of California Santa Cruz could lead to similar breakthroughs in the stabilization of magnetic fields on conventionally-constructed disk drives, the better to prevent data corruption. Industry experts pointed out that this research is most likely to be used for near-term density breakthroughs.

This research also represents a crucial piece of the puzzle for IBM’s atomic equations — figuring out the polarity of the individual bits or atoms is only half the battle. How those atoms or molecules or bits behave as a group on the surface of a drive is also a hurdle to be overcome before you can carry around a whole Blockbuster Video in your iPod shuffle.

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