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Pushing Moore's law to its limit, researchers at I.B.M have figured out a way to store one bit of data on 12 atoms, something it takes a computer 1 million atoms to do. Using antiferromagnetic atoms -- atoms with opposed magnetic orientation -- researchers were able to cluster them together to hold a single bit, or an eighth of a byte, of information. Beyond creating the smallest of its kind, an achievement on its own, researchers hope this could lead to smaller, more efficient memory chips and disk drives of the future. Though, that future looks pretty far off. 

The project began as an effort to play around with Moore's Law. The law expects computers to get smaller and more efficient over time. "The ultimate end of Moore's Law is a single atom," lead researcher Andreas Heinrich said. "That's where we come in." Starting with one atom of copper nitride at very low temperatures, the group of scientists started experimenting with magnetic storage, eventually finding 12 -- two rows of six -- as the magic number. Heinrich explains how it works:

Because of the antiferrogmatic properties of the atoms, they align in such a way that their charges don't interfere with one another, as you can see on the right. And, as Heinrich explains in the video, act as a single magnetic unit. 

It would take eight of these bits to make a byte, and a byte can store the characters in the alphabet, for example. Meaning, eventually we'd have very tiny storage devices. "Instead of 1TB on a device you'd have 100TB to 150TB," explains Heinrich. "Instead of being able to store all your songs on a drive, you'd be able to have all your videos on the device." But this would involve creating a whole brand new material, as most computers are made out of ferromagnetic materials. TechEye's Edward Berrige estimates it would take decades before the findings made their way into products. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.