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Single-Atom Memory Possible, Say Researchers

Quantum nanoscience takes quantum leap by controlling individual atoms

Published: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 12:00

(New Electronics: Hawley Mill, England) -- One bit of digital information can now be successfully stored in an individual atom, according to a study published by the Center for Quantum Nanoscience, within the Korean Institute of Basic Science and the U.S. IBM Almaden Research Center. This breakthrough could lead to the miniaturization of storage media and could serve as a basis for quantum computing.

According to the scientists, current commercially-available magnetic memory devices require 1 million atoms.

“We have opened up new possibilities for quantum nanoscience by controlling individual atoms precisely,” says Andreas Heinrich, director of the Institute of Basic Science. “This research may spur innovation in commercial storage media that will expand the possibilities of miniaturizing data storage.”

In this study, researchers worked with a scanning tunneling microscope, which has a tip that enables the user to view and move individual atoms, as well as to apply a pulse of electrical current.

They used this electric pulse to change the direction of magnetization of individual holmium atoms. By doing that, the team could write a memory of either 1 or zero and swap the two.

A quantum sensor designed by the team, consisting of an iron atom, was used to read the memory stored in the holmium atom. Using this technique, as well as tunnel magneto-resistance, the researchers saw that holmium maintains the same magnetic state stably over several hours.

Placing holmium atoms even 1 nanometer apart did not impact their ability to store information individually. This was unexpected as it was thought the magnetic field from one atom would impact its neighbor.

In this way, the scientists could build a two-bit device with four possible types of memory: 1–1, 0–0, 1–0, and 0–1.

“There are no quantum mechanical effects between atoms of holmium,” explains Heinrich. “Now we want to know why.”

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Established more than 40 years ago, New Electronics is the electronics industry’s leading magazine and a central hub for design engineers. With its blend of technology features, news, and new product information, New Electronics keeps designers and managers up to date with the fastest moving industry in the world.