IBM today debuted a whimsical 94-second film to showcase technology that its engineers can use to move atoms. The film, magnified 100 million times to make it visible to humans, uses the same techniques that IBM is employing to build the next generation of miniaturized storage.
IBM researchers made the movie using a scanning tunneling microscope to move atoms around on a surface. The underlying technology has a serious purpose: to create storage media vastly smaller than any available today, for big-data and mobile applications. Find out more about the research, and how the movie was made, here: The Making Of The World's Smallest Movie.
Andreas Heinrich, principal investigator at IBM Research, says in the making-of video:
What we have been doing for the last 40 years is we've taken essentially the same silicon transistor and we've scaled it down, putting correspondingly more transistors on the same chip. Very recently, what we have done is we've been interested in the magnetic properties of atoms on surfaces, and really what we wanted to answer is a very simple question: How small can you make a magnet and still use it for data storage?
"We know that we can make it stably out of a million atoms, because that's what's done in current technologies," adds Christopher Lutz, research scientist at IBM Research. "And we found that for the materials we chose, and that we were able to work with, only 12 atoms was sufficient."
The implications of the research are vast -- or, rather, minuscule. "You could carry around not just two movies on your iPhone or something; you could carry around every movie that was every produced, basically," says Heinrich.
How tiny is the scale IBM is working in? "If an atom was the size of an orange, then an orange would be the size of the whole planet Earth," says Lutz.
For IBM, the Boy and His Atom video isn't just about engineering. It's about inspiring young people to do science. "If I can do this by making a movie, and get 1,000 kids to join science rather than going to law school, I'd be super happy," Heinrich says.
There is nothing wrong with out of the box thinking. we are accustomed to think in compartmention or the set lines we have been trained since our childhood. Such fruit for thought as we are discussion about IBM video can give an impetus to lots of inquisitive minds across the world and perhaps good for future and explored research fields.
Non-scientists SHOULD decide the future of scientific funding, just as the military and police answer to civilian authority.
Uh.. WHOA. So when did scientists stop being civilians? I think we should be very careful about who we let decide the future of scientific funding. People who DON'T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE should NOT be in control.
Checks and balances are necessary.. but that's why peer review is in place.. and that's exactly what some politicians are trying to cut out of the NSF grant process. If we allow scientific funding to be governed by political whim... we will be in big trouble.
I agree, mhhfive. This is so great to still have these "pioneers" involved in pure research. It definitely will continue, as Watson and other big data capabilities have done, to advance technology and its use.
It is exciting to know that we are still valuing the research. IBM deserves great credit for leading the way and using technology to solve business and problems of society today, as well as advancing our overall knowledge of science.
I'd guess that Xerox parc and IBM are the most notable examples of pure research in the corporate world (in the US). MSFT has its research division, but I think it focuses on software/algorithms/hardware rather than the physical sciences.
Bell labs used to do this sort of stuff, but it doesn't exist anymore.... and not many public companies can justify basic research investments nowadays.
You're right. Every time I see a report that announces insight into a disease, then cites how the new study looks at hundreds of prior years' studies, I shout, "Big data!" It's really exciting to see how the technologies are expanding into so many areas -- and this is only the very beginning.
It also plays to IBM's strengths in education. Given the company's existing relationships with higher-ed and, I believe, some K-12 districts, you can imagine the company working with groups of students to produce other videos that teach kids about atoms, data, science, chemistry, biology, programming and more... in other words, all the STEM areas we seem, as a nation, to struggle with.
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