For the first time, IBM says it successfully stored data on a single atom.
The research was done at the Almaden lab in Silicon Valley, and was first published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday. This achievement by IBM means people will eventually change the way they store data, Quartz reports—especially because as of today, an average hard drive uses about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit of information.
The success comes, in part, because IBM (IBM) researchers found a way to magnetize individual atoms of the element holmium, according to Quartz. Using a type of scientific needle, researchers found a way to pass an electrical current through the holmium atoms, causing their north and south poles to flip. The atoms’ poles stay in their orientation—flipped or not—enabling scientists to measure each atom later on as a 1 or 0. This replicates the process of writing and reading information on a traditional magnetic hard drive.
Despite the success, this is only the beginning. According to Quartz, this is the first step to discovering how scientists can use atomic-level computing. And later on, computer chip manufacturers will need to be able to show how the technologies can be scaled, Quartz reports.