Scientists from IBM and the German Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) have built the world's smallest magnetic data storage unit. It uses just twelve atoms per bit, the basic unit of information, and squeezes a whole byte (8 bit) into as few as 96 atoms. A modern hard drive, for comparison, still needs more than half a billion atoms per byte. The team present their work in the weekly journal Science (13 January 2012). CFEL is a joint venture of the research centre Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY in Hamburg, the Max-Planck-Society (MPG) and the University of Hamburg. "With CFEL the partners have established an innovative institution on the DESY campus, delivering top-level research across a broad spectrum of disciplines," says DESY research director Edgar Weckert.
An illustration of I.B.M.'s technique for storing data on a single atom. An iron atom on a copper surface could store a single bit of binary data, with "0" or "1" indicated by the orientation of the atom's magnetic field.