IBM researchers in San Jose create world's smallest movie

May 1, 2013 7:18:33 PM PDT
Researchers at IBM in San Jose have created the world's smallest movie -- the product of moving individual atoms to tell a story.

At first glance, this looks like an early attempt at animation. But you're looking at something truly revolutionary. The stick figure boy and what appears to be a ball, that is actually an atom, are made of single atoms being manipulated on an ordinary desktop computer.

"It takes days or months to set up to move individual atoms, but once we have it set up, it's easy," IBM research scientist Christopher Lutz said. "It takes just a few seconds. It's just a click of a mouse, drag the atom to a new spot, and let it go."

Scientists at IBM Research in San Jose's Almaden Valley have been studying how small numbers of atoms behave.

It used to take one million atoms to store data. They've discovered the number could be as small as 12.

And manipulating single atoms could open yet more doors.

Let's talk scale here. These research scientists had to take a single atom and magnify it by 100 million times in order to manipulate it. That would make it, say, the equivalence of an orange. But then this orange on the same scale would be equivalent of the entire planet Earth.

By the way, moving an atom produces an interesting noise. It's kind of like a deejay scratching music tracks.

Scientists speculate the science behind this movie might lead to tiny mass storage devices.

"It could be that our devices just continue to shrink as they have, and we're pushing hard to make the current technologies shrink and be less expensive and less intrusive every year, and we're trying to jump ahead to the day when those can be so small that they're at the ultimate limit of smallness," Lutz said.

IBM hopes its movie will capture the imagination of young people.

"Here is a project which is really nice because you could actually make a movie which a lot of kids can actually see and enjoy," IBM Science and Technology Director Spike Narayan said. "It's very hard to do with many science projects. So this is a great opportunity for us to kind of get kids excited about science and technology and mathematics."


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