Action! Big Blue enters film biz with atomic movie

'A Boy and His Atom' gets IBM into Guinness Book as 'world's smallest movie'

IBM enters Guinness Book with world's smallest stop-motion movie made with atoms.

IBM released its first production movie today, but don't look for it on the big screen as the characters are just a bunch of atoms in a stop-motion film.

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IBM said it made the world's tiniest movie by using thousands of precisely placed atoms to create nearly 250 frames of stop-motion action.

Big Blue engineers manipulated the atoms to demonstrate atomic-scale memory that has the potential to make computers smaller and more powerful.

The movie follows a 2012 breakthrough when IBM's researchers were able to reduce from about one million to 12 the number of atoms required to create a bit of data. That effort took five years of work,

IBM's new flick, titled "A Boy and His Atom" depicts a character named Atom who befriends a single atom and goes on a playful journey that includes dancing, playing catch and bouncing on a trampoline. Set to a playful musical track, IBM said the movie represents a unique way to convey science outside the research community.

"Capturing, positioning and shaping atoms to create an original motion picture on the atomic-level is a precise science and entirely novel," said Andreas Heinrich, Principle Investigator, IBM Research, in a statement. "At IBM, researchers don't just read about science, we do it. This movie is a fun way to share the atomic-scale world while opening up a dialogue with students and others on the new frontiers of math and science."

The atomic storage breakthrough may some day allow data storage hardware manufacturers to produce products with capacities that are orders of magnitude greater than today's hard disk and flash drives.

"Looking at this conservatively ... instead of 1TB on a device you'd have 100TB to 150TB. Instead of being able to store all your songs on a drive, you'd be able to have all your videos on the device," Heinrich, told Computerworld at the time of the 2012 breakthrough.

It takes about one million atoms to store a single bit of data on a computer or electronic device. A bit is the basic unit of information in computing that can have only one of two values, one or zero. Eight bits form a byte or a character. So, it was a significant development when IBM announced it could store that same bit of information that had taken a million atoms in just 12 atoms.

IBM used the tip of a two-ton scanning tunneling microscope to switch the magnetic information in the bits from a zero to a one and back again, allowing researchers to store information.

To further demonstrate its ability to manipulate those atoms to create bits of data, IBM used the tip of its scanning tunneling microscope to push the atoms around and photograph them in order to make what Guinness World Records has verified as "The World's Smallest Stop-Motion Film."

Each frame of the stop-motion film measures 45 by 25 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A human hair is 3,000 times thicker than 25nm and there are 25 million nanometers in an inch.

The experiment was performed at low temperature, or about 1 degree Kelvin, which corresponds to about -272 *C (-458 *F). The byte starts switching randomly about once a minute due to thermal energy (heat) at about 5 degrees Kelvin.

"We use low temperatures because it enables us to start from one atom and assemble bigger and bigger structures while keeping an eye on their magnetic properties," an IBM spokesman said.

"The more atoms we use to make each bit, the more stable the bits become. We anticipate that in order to make bits of this type that are stable at room temperature would require about 150 atoms per bit (rather than 12 atoms at low temperatures)," he added.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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This story, "Action! Big Blue enters film biz with atomic movie" was originally published by Computerworld.

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