Occasionally a “small” (as in budget) film will hit the big time, making its stars famous and its producers rich.
At IBM, they think of “small” in a different way—on the atomic scale. Last spring, scientists at the company’s Research Laboratories in San Jose, Calif., used a scanning tunneling microscope to create what Guinness World Records has certified as “the world’s smallest stop-motion film.”
Titled A Boy and his Atom, the movie consists of 242 frames with a size of only 45 × 25 nm. Magnification for the film, produced in only a week by IBM researchers, was more than 100,000,000×. The scientists used 5,000 carbon monoxide molecules as pixels, using an STM to place each molecule precisely on a copper sheet to create the image for each frame of the film. They talk about how they went about producing images for the film in a 5-minute “making of” documentary. The image above, set in the STM lab, is a screen capture from the documentary. (Credit: IBM/youtube.) The scientists did it again a few weeks later, creating images based on a Star Trek theme that were composed of individual atoms manipulated and imaged using an STM.
Both A Boy and his Atom and its Star Trek-themed followup are certainly good fun and demonstrate some impressive atomic imaging and manipulation capabilities. But the researchers’ real work is in furthering atomic-scale magnetic memory technology.
“The ability to move single atoms, one of the smallest particles of any element in the universe, is crucial to IBM’s research in the field of atomic-scale memory,” the company says, adding that its scientists created the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit, made up of only 12 atoms, in 2012. “This breakthrough could transform computing by providing the world with devices that have access to unprecedented levels of data storage,” according to IBM.