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IBM Measures The Force Required To Move Atoms

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Uploaded on Feb 21, 2008

MADE IN IBM LABS: In a recent paper published in the journal Science, IBM researchers describe a new milestone in nanotechnology: the ability to measure the force required to move individual atoms. Their findings are an important step for understanding what types of atoms are best suited for building different kinds of nanoelectronic devices, based on how strong or weak of a bond they can form on different surfaces.

The ability to control atoms and move them around on a surface was first discovered by an IBM researcher nearly 20 years ago -- an achievement that has been hailed as the "Kittyhawk of Nanotechnology." But until today, nobody has known the exact force required to move atoms on a surface: an absolutely critical understanding if we are to build Lilliputian computer chips and storage devices from the atom up.

The problem is akin to what scientists and engineers needed to learn about construction at macroscopic sizes many decades ago. For example, building a modern bridge would be impossible without first measuring the strength of different materials, understanding the relevant forces, and comprehending how everything interacts. In the nanotechnology realm, to make structures that you want to remain rigidly in place you would use strongly bonded ("sticky") atoms while for groups of atoms that need to move you would use atoms held in place only by weak chemical bonds.

IBM is no stranger to working with atoms. Two IBM scientists won the Nobel Prize for their invention of a specialized microscope that could "see" individual atoms for the first time. And in 1989, in the same Silicon Valley lab where today's breakthrough took place, an IBM scientist was the first to move atoms on a surface, spelling I-B-M in Xenon atoms. More recently, IBM has demonstrated the potential to store data in individual atoms or small clusters of atoms, and that single molecules may work well as switches for future computer chips. As these breakthroughs before them, IBM continues to drive the future of atom scale research.

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