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IBM Demos Single-Atom DRAM 150

Posted by timothy
from the is-it-small-enough-yet dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A single-atom DRAM was demonstrated by IBM recently with a slow-mo movie of the atomic process of setting and erasing a bit on a single atom. Videos of atomic processes inside chips were not possible until now, leading to IBM's claim that its pulsed-STM (used to make the movie) will lead to a new atomic-scale semiconductor industry, and not just for memory chips, according to this EETimes story: 'The ultimate memory chips of the future will encode bits on individual atoms, a capability recently demonstrated for iron atoms by IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., which unveiled a new pulsed technique for scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs). Pulsed-STMs yield nanosecond time-resolution, a requirement for designing the atomic-scale memory chips, solar panels and quantum computers of the future, but also for making super efficient organic solar cells by controlling photovoltaic reactions on the atomic level.'"
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IBM Demos Single-Atom DRAM

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  • by Meshach (578918) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @08:10PM (#33682846)
    From TFA:

    The ultimate memory chips of the future will encode bits on individual atoms, a capability recently demonstrated for iron atoms by IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., which unveiled a new pulsed technique for scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs).

    So this has not already happened (as the article implies) but is an idea for future development.

  • by GrumblyStuff (870046) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @08:10PM (#33682852)

    Don't electronics become more susceptible as they become smaller? How much redundancy would be needed now that you only have a single atom to hold a bit of memory?

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @08:41PM (#33683010)
    This is a fantastic technical achievement. However, it has no meaningful direct link to ANY deployable technology. It is a measurement technique, and although the article does not say so, I'm sure it requires a temperature of somewhere below 1K, maybe below .001K. That is the only way they could be getting signals of these phenomena without getting swamped by thermal noise. All the stuff about single atom storage is boilerplate marketing hype. I assumes that they have a hot key to paste in how a new technology can be used for memory storage, or solar cells, or green technology or ...
  • by hedwards (940851) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @08:45PM (#33683062)
    Yes and no, less likely that it will be hit but significantly more damaging if it is hit. What I'm wanting to know is what their plans are for error correction. A single atom is susceptible to all sorts of things that thousands or even hundreds of atoms aren't.
  • Just One Bit? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:32PM (#33683368) Homepage Journal
    Slackers! Most atoms have way more electrons than that!
  • Organic solar cells? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:32PM (#33683370)

    but also for making super efficient organic solar cells by controlling photovoltaic reactions on the atomic level

    Where did that quote come from? All I saw was a vague mention of measuring the efficiency of solar cells. Not sure why they can't measure the efficiency of the ones they have already.

  • Re:Quantum effects? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @10:01PM (#33683548)

    yes, indeed, will let you get more capacity only when you fit the probe in the same space. For the time being, an STM is about this big [uta.edu].

    I'd dearly love to know how they plan on locating any particular atom, let alone redirect the read/write head to it and only it.

    Even if the atoms are arranged in an array, flat, how does an atom-scale read head know where it is pointing with sufficiently minuscule granularity? Do they intend to put markers on the surface nearby--oh no wait atoms. Well, they can probably have wires leading--oh no wait atoms. Well, maybe if they color--oh.

    Well I guess they'll just have to have one atom surrounded by its own read-write logic, flash-style, and completely negate the whole point of having the actual storage on the atomic size. Oh no wait, that's not even what this research is about.

    Seriously, I don't think this has much potential for engineering, as much as it may be clever science.

  • Re:Quantum effects? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kurokame (1764228) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @10:43PM (#33683774)
    You apply a voltage gradient. By some clever field manipulation, sensor placement, and computational wizardry you can address a spot in a three-dimensional lattice. It would probably work something like an MRI, if it had the bastard child of an STM.
  • by zrbyte (1666979) on Friday September 24, 2010 @01:41AM (#33684410)
    Yes it does. This is entirely basic research, although a very exciting (especially for me since I work with STMs)! The pulsed STM concept is the interesting part here for a scientist. The application to memory is just a kind of long term prospect they have to write into the paper, to get it published in a high ranking journal. It is not very applicable in practice yet. I guess I need not say that the reading, writing, addressing of more than 1 bit of memory is not possible yet. Furthermore, these STMs operate at liquid helium temperatures (3.2 Kelvin). Who would want to carry around a cryostat with they laptop? :)
  • Re:Next up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Friday September 24, 2010 @01:42AM (#33684414) Homepage Journal

    Single-atom DRM?

    Guess we'll need nuclear reactors to crack that.

    But, then again, I don't think the **AA will exist by the time that comes around. I would really think by then independent artists might actually rule the scene as they show their unique talent versus the cultured BS of the other industries.

  • Re:Next up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Friday September 24, 2010 @01:46AM (#33684432) Homepage Journal

    I've already cracked their master-copy machines (own one myself for my own music recordings, and the data trace protection is WEAK,) so as it stands right now, unless they CAN modify the universe or come out with a new technology that I (or my company) can't purchase and bypass, they're SOL.

    I made it a lifelong goal to screw the assholes screwing us, and I'm pretty close to having enough money and power to do it.

    I will become the lobbyist you always dreamed of - one that actually cared about humanity instead of profit.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:09AM (#33685106) Journal

    Nope, there are lots of subatomic places where we could store information. The spin on electrons, for example. Another simple alternative would be to use the photovoltaic effect to move electrons up and down energy levels. Fire a photon at the atom to move the electron up one energy level, measure its charge to find the current one.

    Of course, when I say simple, I mean in terms of theoretical physics [smbc-comics.com]. In terms of engineering, it's quite the opposite.

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