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  • Data and data storage are in a never-ending arms race.

  • The size and cost of memory shrinks while video and photo resolutions go up, and file

  • sizes balloon.

  • The end result is you just never seem to have enough room on your phone or laptop for all

  • your stuff, and you have to choose which photos of your cat to delete so you can take more

  • photos of your cat right now cuz she's doing something so cute.

  • But there's a limit to how small magnetic storage can get, and scientists are inching

  • towards it.

  • The basic building block of data is a bit, represented by either a 1 or a 0.

  • The basic building block of ordinary matter is an atom.

  • So scientists have been trying to store a bit using a single atom.

  • It actually makes sense when you think about it.

  • Magnetic storage has been common in computers since the 1950s, when hard disk drives held

  • a whopping 4-ish MB and was the size of a refrigerator.

  • Magnets have a north and south pole, so depending on which way they're oriented they can represent

  • a one or a zero.

  • Usually magnetic fields are only noticeable when the magnetic fields of whole clusters

  • of atoms are aligned the same way, but zoom in closer and you'll see the electrons of

  • atoms basically act as tiny magnets in and of themselves, so theoretically a single atom

  • could be enough to represent a bit.

  • But down at that atomic scale, things can be chaotic.

  • Atoms are extremely sensitive to their surroundings, which can cause their north and south poles

  • to flip.

  • To store data reliably, scientists need to prevent this flipping, and most experiments

  • in single atom data storage solve this problem with extreme cold.

  • In July of 2018 one experiment used holmium atoms as their magnets, and subjected them

  • to extreme conditions.

  • They found the holmium atoms retained their magnetization even in a very strong magnetic

  • field of 8 Tesla, so long as they were kept below 45 Kelvin.

  • Still the researchers hope that the holmium's resilience points to more stable data storage

  • at less extreme temperatures.

  • And finally in September of 2018 scientists announced they had come up with a different

  • approach to single atom storage altogether.

  • Using cobalt atoms on a background of black phosphorus, the scientists created an energy

  • difference between the cobalt atom's orbitals, or the regions where electrons orbit the nucleus.

  • This allowed them to use the electron's orbital angular momentum to create the bits,

  • instead of their spin angular momentum like in previous experiments.

  • Changing the orbital angular momentum has a bigger energy barrier, which should make

  • the bits more stable at higher temperatures, though they've only been tested in extreme

  • cold so far.

  • Even if scientists make single atom storage stable at room temperature, there are still

  • other problems to solve before it goes mainstream.

  • Data also need to be easy to write with acceptable an signal to noise ratio.

  • Most experiments in single atom data storage use a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope to arrange

  • the atoms one by one, which is not effective enough for practical use.

  • Single atom storage has a long way to go, and in the meantime, it looks like I'm just

  • not going to have enough space for more pictures of my cat.

  • So storage on atom might take a while, but DNA data storage could be here in a few years.

  • Check out our video about it here.

  • Fun fact, there are also some scientists out there trying to store data on a single ELECTRON!

  • It's called electronic quantum holography, and it very confusing, please don't make

  • me do a video about it.

  • Catch ya next time on Seeker!

Data and data storage are in a never-ending arms race.

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B2 US atom storage data magnetic single angular momentum

Here’s How We Could Store Data on a Single Atom

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    joey joey posted on 2021/04/14
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