We will let Gareth Halfacree explain this coolness beyond cool:
IBM’s research arm has been playing with atoms in order to create what is officially the world’s smallest stop-motion animation feature.
Dubbed ‘A Boy and His Atom,’ the animation combines 242 frames of action into a short advert for IBM’s expertise in all things tiny – and does so by having a stick figure befriend a single atom. Oh, and the atom is real: in fact, everything in the animation is constructed from visible atoms, magnified 100 million times using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to make the normally invisible building-blocks of matter visible.
Technically, the blobs that form the pixels of the animation aren’t single atoms but molecules of carbon monoxide – a single carbon atom joined to a single oxygen atom. Using the STM and an ultra-sharp needle hovering just one nanometre from the surface of a copper plate, the team is able to attract the molecules and drag them to specific locations – using the unique sound they make to figure out how far the atoms have been moved.
It sounds like a mantra: Study hard, and you, too, can make movies out of atoms when you grow up. But it’s not just about the exponential coolness:
IBM is hoping that the technology used to create the animation will pave the way forward for novel computer circuits that can bypass the rapidly-approaching physical limits that threaten to put an end to Moore’s Law – the observation, made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, that the number of transistors in a circuit, and therefore its relative performance, doubles roughly every eighteen months. The team behind the animation has already created the world’s smallest magnetic bit, constructed from just 12 atoms – compared to the million atoms a traditional bit takes up on a mechanical hard drive.
Yeah, saving the world by being cool, one atom at a time.
Okay, so the world will do fine without 128 zeptobyte data storage in our wristwatches, but still ….