A new generation of ultra-dense, nanoscale atomic-scale storage devices may emerge after an exciting new discovery from researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland. Scientists have successfully achieved a systematic atomic manipulation of an insulating surface at room temperature for the first time.
The experiment paves the way for a new generation of storage devices and logic circuits as well as massively dense electromechanical systems. It is the culmination of research that began in the 1990s, through which physicists were able to directly control surface structures by moving and positioning atoms to certain atomic sites. This manipulation was carried out on conducting and semi-conducting surfaces, but usually at very low temperatures.
The new experiment creates artificial structures in the shape of a tiny Swiss cross on an insulator at room temperature, marking a new achievement for researchers. The cross is comprised of 20 bromine atoms and measures 5.6-nm square, making it the largest number of atomic manipulations achieved at room temperature.
"Essentially, you can think about it as an ultra-dense storage media, where information can be stored with a few atoms," said Ernst Meyer, head of research for the project. "Alternatively, one may think to create logic circuits as in a processor. NaCl (sodium chloride) is an insulator. If we can write conducting lines, one may build a network. For example, to create high accuracy frequency standards, similar to quartz in a watch or the time base in a computer."
The process of manipulating atoms to create small-scale storage devices is taking off throughout the world. Just last year, IBM (News - Alert) researchers created the smallest movie ever made using a scanning tunneling microscope to manufacture the 250-frame feature. IBM also successfully stored one bit of magnetic information using 12 atoms.