IBM‘s division of research has been on the forefront of technological innovation for more than seven decades, and their latest invention is just ridiculous—in an awesome way. The company announced Wednesday that they were able to store data on the smallest thing possible; an itsy bitsy atom.
If this technology is further developed, it will surely change the future of data storage. Perspectively, hard drives use about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit. Yet the ability to read and write one bit on one atom could store the entire iTunes library of 35 million songs on a device the size of a credit card. That’s approximately 122.5 terabytes. In comparison, approximately 13 raw 22MP photos currently fit on one gigabyte, meaning the same credit card sized device could roughly fit about 900,000 high quality images from a Canon 5D Mark IV.
The research was done at the Almaden lab in Silicon Valley and published in Nature on Wednesday, March 8. The team used atoms of Holmium, a rare-earth metal that proved to be particularly suitable for single-atom storage. Using a Nobel Prize winning scanning tunneling microscope and an extremely sharp needle, they were able to pass an electrical current through single Holmium atoms, which caused their north and south poles to flip, replicating the process of writing information to a traditional magnetic hard drive.
According to Quartz, this invention is just the first step to discovering how scientists can use atomic-level computing. But researchers and chip manufacturers still have a lot of work to to do when it comes to finding out how this technology can be scaled. In an ideal scenario, any device that storages information—from computers to SD cards— will become considerably thinner and lighter, which has been happening exponentially over the past few decades. But there’s no telling if this level of it will be doable and affordable for the average consumer.