Researchers have built a ‘hard disk’ from magnets that are as thin as a single atom. If the technology can be scaled-up then it should be possible increase the storage capacity of HDDs with 1000 times.
Regular HDDs already consist of small ‘magnets’ that can have a positive or negative charge, which represents the zeros and ones in computer data. Currently such a ‘bit’ is made up of about a million atoms. By miniaturizing the bits the storage density can be increased. Researchers of IBM and several European and Asian universities found a way to reduce the size of a bit to its absolute minimum, a single atom. Their newly developed HDD has two bits, each the size of an atom, the researchers write in the scientific magazine Nature.
Currently their HDD therefore only stores 2 bits of data. But they consider it progress that such small magnetic fields can be kept stable and don’t spontaneously switch from negative to positive or vice versa. The previous record of a stable magnetic field consisted of 12 atoms.
The single atom magnets are possible due to the usage of holmium, a rare-earth metal. The hard disk has to be kept on a temperature of 5 Kelvin (-268,15 Celsius) close to the absolute zero temperature (0 Kelvin or −273.15 Celsius), therefore it’s not expected the technology will have any practical use.