Electronic Design

IBM Nanotech Research Could Lead To Atomic-Level Devices

IBM researchers have published two papers on nanotechnology that could lead to the possibility of building chips, storage devices, sensors and other devices from a few atoms or molecules. Though the technology is far from making its way into products, IBM says the work lays the foundation for single-atom data storage and single-molecule switching. The papers, published in the journal Science, are titled "Large Magnetic Anisotropy of a Single Atomic Spin Embedded in a Surface Molecular Network," and "Current-Induced Hydrogen Tautomerization and Conductance Switching of Naphthalocyanine Molecules." The first paper describes the first time scientists have been able measure the magnetic anisotropy of a single atom, which determines an atom's ability to store information. Further research may enable scientists to build structures consisting of small clusters of atoms, or even individual atoms, that could store large volumes of magnetic information. For example, 30,000 feature length movies or the entire contents of YouTube could fit in a device the size of an iPod. "One of the major challenges for the IT industry today is shrinking the bit size used for data storage to the smallest possible features, while increasing the capacity," Gian-Luca Bona, manager of science and technology at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, said in a statement. "Understanding the specific magnetic properties of atoms is the cornerstone of progressing toward new, more efficient ways to store data." In the second report, IBM researchers unveiled the first single-molecule switch that can operate without disrupting the molecule's outer frame. This may one day lead to supercomputers with molecular-level components that are vastly smaller, faster and use less energy than today's computer chips and memory devices. The concept of using molecules as electronic components is still in its infancy, according to an IBM release. Only a few examples of individual molecules serving as switches or memory elements have been demonstrated to date.

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