IBM discovers magnetic storage limit at 12 atoms

January 12, 2012 – PRNewswire — IBM Research (NYSE:IBM) demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms, 100-10,000x less than today’s information storage technologies.

The approach builds nanostructures one atom at a time and applies antiferromagnetism, an "unconventional form of magnetism." 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. The researchers were able to put adjacent magnetic bits much closer together than traditional ferromagnets because of their inherent alternating magnetic spin directions. Antiferromagnetism avoids the bit-to-bit interference caused by magnetic fields on neighboring bits of normal magnetism.

Atomic-scale memory is 100x denser than hard disk drives (HDD), 160x denser than NAND flash chips, 417x denser than DRAM components, and 10,000x denser than SRAM chips. Read more memory architecture articles here.

The researchers consider this atomic-scale manipulation an alternative to traditional scaling to make silicon transistor technology has cheaper, denser, and more efficient (Moore’s Law). "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 unit — single atoms — to build computing devices one atom at a time," said Andreas Heinrich, the lead investigator into atomic storage at IBM Research – Almaden, in California.

The research was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Science, DOI:10.1126/science.335.6065.144-a,

IBM Research studies the properties of materials important to the information technology industry. Visit

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