Like to have 10PB in your pocket?

Talk about doing more with less. A dozen atoms have been made to store a bit of data magnetically – a feat normally performed by a million atoms. The work could one day help shrink the devices that store computer data.

Today’s hard drives record data using a tiny electromagnet to align the spins of atoms in a metallic film that rotates below it. When the spins of about a million of these atoms are aligned in the same direction, their collective magnetic field can be detected by the electromagnet on its next pass. This means the million-strong group stores a single bit of data, a 1 or a 0 in binary code.

Using a scanning tunneling microscope, scientists have now been able to encode a bit of data in just 12 iron atoms kept at a temperature just a few degrees above absolute zero.

The team then placed eight of the 12-atom bits side by side, creating a byte of data made of 96 atoms. Because no magnetic field strayed from each cluster of 12 atoms, the bits could be placed together very closely, creating a byte 100 times as dense as those used in today’s hard drives.

Get ready for 10 PetaByte USB keychain drives! Learn more here.

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