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IBM Hardware

IBM Creates World's Smallest 3-D Map 90

schliz writes "IBM scientists have created the smallest 3-D map of the earth, so small that 1,000 maps could fit on a grain of salt (YouTube video from IBM). The 500K-pixel map was created in 2 minutes 23 seconds. Using a tiny, heated silicon tip, the technique reached a resolution of 15nm — comparable to the 10nm achievable by the more complex electron beam lithography. The researchers believe that smaller resolutions are feasible. Potential applications range from fast prototyping for CMOS nanoelectronics to fabricating shape-matching templates for self-assembling nano-rods or nano-tubes, IBM says. The researchers also produced a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn." This is very much a laboratory technique at the moment, at least five years from commercial use.
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IBM Creates World's Smallest 3-D Map

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  • by ddegirmenci ( 1644853 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:02AM (#31953946)

    >> at least 5 years from commercial use. []

    • Ahhh, it's just as well to put off the inevitable for a few more years. I'm already at the point where I have trouble reading the darned things while driving.

      No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up. - Lily Tomlin

  • I mean, back in the seventies, my grandmother bought me a globe that could spin, was big enough to actually read AND had light! Bet it was a lot cheaper too.
  • Road Trip (Score:5, Funny)

    by mark0 ( 750639 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:08AM (#31954048)
    That's going to be a PITA to fold.
  • Fail (Score:3, Funny)

    by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:14AM (#31954114) Homepage
    No Street View == FAIL.
  • ah (Score:5, Funny)

    by sentientbeing ( 688713 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:15AM (#31954142)
    Ah miniature maps. The next big thing.
  • Microcosm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:21AM (#31954212)

    Perhaps the Earth we live on is in actuality someone's really tiny 3D map.

  • by neurovish ( 315867 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:30AM (#31954330)

    I'll believe it when I see it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    for Ants!?

    it needs to be at least 3 times bigger than this.

  • what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Punto ( 100573 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .botnup.> on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:40AM (#31954464) Homepage

    a 3D map made of pixels created with a physical needle? what the hell does that mean? is this a physical map, or just information? what is a "pixel" in a 3D map? do they mean a voxel? or are pixels a unit of discrete physical space now? (3D physical space?). Somebody got their concepts all mixed up I think.

    • by Splab ( 574204 )

      If you bothered to read and view the video you would understand that 3D in this case is depth, not building blocks, in this context a pixel makes perfect sense since a pixel is the smallest discrete component in a picture.

    • Re:what? (Score:5, Informative)

      by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @02:30PM (#31958556)
      It is 3D in the sense that it is a 2D image with topography (a height map). Basically they are using a very sharp (nano-sized) heated stylus to desorb ("burn") away nano-sized amounts of polymer. (This is basically a variant of "scanning probe" methods like atomic force microscopy [].) By carefully positioning the probe in x-y you can draw a pattern, and by controlling the stylus height and burn time, you can control the depth. In this way you can create arbitrary topography at the nano-scale.

      Many of the comments in this thread seem to be fixating on the uselessness of such a small map of the world. Making a world map was just a cute proof of principle (the paper also shows test patterns so that you can judge patterning fidelity). Basically this is a new way to pattern at the nanoscale in an fairly arbitrary way. Of course raster scanning a stylus is going to be very slow compared to optical lithography, but at this stage it's better to compare to something like e-beam lithography [] which is the raster-scanning of an electron beam. This is also slow, but can make very high-resolution patterns and is thus great for exploratory research and for creating the masters that are then used for optical lithography. This new nano-desorbing technique could be another way to make master patterns. In fact, the papers mention that the resolution and throughput are in fact comparable to e-beam methods. And this new technique has a couple of advantages:
      1. The ability to not just pattern in 2D, but control the topography could reduce the number of patterning steps in microchip construction.
      2. These mechanical 'scanning tips' can in principle be built into massive arrays, allowing parallel (high-throughput) patterning. In fact IBM has been working on a project called millipede [] for using these arrays of tips as a data storage device. (This most recent patterning work appears to be an offshoot, where instead of melting pits to store data, they are blasting away material to pattern.)

      It's always difficult to predict whether these things will become real products one day, but the proof-of-principle for both tip arrays, and now for nano-scale patterning using heated tips, means that we're actually relatively close. If IBM pursues this, it could become a new nano-patterning method in the toolbox of the microelectronics industry (which is, of course, always looking for techniques that can push patterning to ever smaller scales).

      For anyone interested (and with subscription access), here are the papers:
      "Nanoscale 3D Patterning of Molecular Resists by Scanning Probes []" by D. Pires, J. L. Hedrick, A. De Silva, J. Frommer, B. Gotsmann, H. Wolf, M. Despont, U. Duerig and A. W. Knoll was published by Science on the Science Express website on April 22, 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1187851 []
      "Probe-based 3-D Nanolithography Using Self-Amplified Depolymerization Polymers []" by A. Knoll, D. Pires, O. Coulembier, P. Dubois, J. L. Hedrick, J. Frommer and U. Duerig was published in Advanced Materials, advanced online publication on April 23, 2010, DOI: 10.1002/adma.200904386 []
  • Resolution? (Score:2, Informative)

    by jpyeck ( 1368075 )
    To what scale is this a "map of the Earth"? At some point this will become so small a 3D map of the Earth is going to be indistinguishable from a sphere.
    • Re:Resolution? (Score:4, Informative)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:04AM (#31955626)
      Welcome to the Internet, where you can take a look [] and see for yourself with just a single click.
    • I developed a system for making 1:1 scale maps - the problem was folding and storing them. But damn were they accurate.
    • by md65536 ( 670240 )

      At a billion-to-one scale, the Earth would be about as big as a thumbnail (12.7562 mm diameter).

      At any scale, the "sphereyness" should be exactly the same. The Earth when viewed from the moon, should look just as much like a sphere as such a model held in your hand somewhere in front of your face. You're wondering, how closely or largely would you have to view such a model, to distinguish its details? For making maps to be viewed with the naked eye, the nanoscopic detail described in TFA is far too dense

  • to hide from your opponents during a deathmatch on this level.
  • by hivebrain ( 846240 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:55AM (#31954632)
    Professor Slartibartfast is particularly proud of his glacier work with this model.
  • Are just flat, not in 3D... Work in progress, I'd say. ;)
  • Ha, and I was planning to make one of these myself just the other day - small world!
  • by ElSupreme ( 1217088 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:00AM (#31954718)
    With a surface area of 511,000,000 km^2 and only 500,000 pixels you are talking a pixel for every 1000 km^2. That is not what I would call a map, more so a spherical blob.
    • It's still a map, doesn't matter what the scale is. In fact, no maps (of cities, the world, etc) are 1:1 because they would have to be the same size as what they are mapping.
      • by Another, completely ( 812244 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:55AM (#31955482)
        Steven Wright has claimed that he has a 1:1 map of the United States. He keeps it spread out across the country because it's a bitch to fold.
      • Well scale, and resolution are completely different things.
        I have no problem with the SCALE that IBM is using. I have a problem with the resolution, Personally I don't think it is legitimate to call a half mega-pixel "globe" of the earth a 3D map. with 1000km resolution there is no valuable 3D information in there. This is a picture of the earth in globe form. A really low RESOLUTION one. Calling it a map is a stretch. Calling it a 3D map is not legitimate as there is no usable 3D Information based solely
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bob-taro ( 996889 )

          I have a problem with the resolution ... Calling it a map is a stretch. Calling it a 3D map is not legitimate as there is no usable 3D Information based solely on resolution.

          Technically, it's a map no matter how little information is there. But aside from that, your math is off. It's one pixel for 1000km^2, not (1000km)^2. Each pixel represents a square with 32km sides.

          • Do you know any geographical features that are 32 km in the vertical? So there is NO usable 3D information. So it would not be a 3D map. It is a really low resolution flat globe.
            • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Quit being a douche. This isn't to put in your glove-box for navigation. It is an exercise of the technology.

  • This is excellent news and will be a real help to very very very very very small blind people.

  • The researchers believe that smaller resolutions are feasible.

    I imagine with a lot of hard work they could eventually bring it back to 1x1 pixel.

  • You wanted higher DPI []?
  • This sounds like it could be useful for saving information in data blocks.
    • I was thinking the same thing. I imagine this could be used for those long long term data storage needs, say, thousands or millions of years. Beats using gold-plated LPs that's for sure.
  • Was this really a problem in the past, that globes were too big?!? And really, doesn't a really tiny "3D map of the earth" look exactly like a ball bearing?
    • Is your post serious? This is laughable. I can see it now, people jeering at Ben Franklin's experiments with electricity, "why do we need more sparks?"
      • No, it was a joke. Apparently IBM got tired of writing the letters "I", "B", and "M" really, really small. But they could have been a lot more creative. E.g. they could have made a really, really tiny map of the human brain, and labeled it "Antitrust Lawyer's Brain (actual size)".
    • by f3rret ( 1776822 )

      It's called "Proof of Concept", in this case the concept being a new form of nano-machining, the fact they made a map of the earth (And the Matterhorn) was merely to show off.

  • by Locklin ( 1074657 ) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:00AM (#31955564) Homepage

    This could have some neat applications. You can encode a large amount of information (like a detailed map of the world) in something the size of a marble and read it without power using an optical microscope. If done well, this could have applications for things from a modern rosetta stone to providing reference material for schools in places without electricity.

  • They did a similar stunt about 10 years ago: engraved IBM with single molecules. I think there is no practical application -- they just roll the machine out of a closet every 10 years for publicity.
    Oh, wait, here's their patent []... from 1971 !?
  • 1,000 maps could fit on a grain of salt

    Table, Kosher, or sea?

  • Stop making these useless world's smallest thingies already and make something someone might actually buy.

    "IBM presents: The World's Smallest Violin." []

  • what is this? a map for ants? this map needs to be at least... three times bigger!
  • Give me a break, the proper measurement "is on the head of a pin". I mean, whoever heard of how many angels can dance on a grain of salt.
    Never mind their motivation.

    • What I want to know is this: how many of these spherical maps will it take to completely fill a volkswagon bug?

  • Pretty nifty for sure, but why a 3-D map? Why not solve a harder problem which is archival data storage? Seems to me being able to minutely etch the strings of 1s and 0s from a HD onto some material that either won't decay over time, or will decay so slowly as to vastly outlive optical and magnetic media, would be supremely useful for archival data storage.
  • Everyone is treating this like a joke, but really this is wonderful news.

    Sure, it's been done before...and their tiny 3D map and model of the Matterhorn are not particularly useful, but it was just a demonstration.

    The key here is the relative simplicity of their "nano-milling" machine. This idea could lead to some serious advances in cheap nanoscale fabrication in the next few decades. It could mean that it won't be just labs with hugely expensive equipment that get to play around with nanoscale structures.

  • I'd like to see a Google Maps version, at 1 pixel per meter squared. At 40000 Km for the earths circumference and 15nm resolution I make that as giving a 60cm wide map. Now that's the right size and you could use an electron microscope to inspect any point. I suppose it is too small for colour, I wonder what one could do about that. Next step a 3D world at the resolution of Google streetmap!
  • The researchers also produced a billion-to-one scale model of the Matterhorn.

    Itty Bitty Matterhorn?

  • If anyone's interested in finding out more on the science behind this story, we've set the original research article free to access for the next few weeks; you can find it here: [] Adrian Miller Advanced Materials

When we write programs that "learn", it turns out we do and they don't.