Magnetic Storage Taken to the Atomic Scale

International team of scientists learns to read and write data on islands of atoms

3 min read

14 September 2007—When it comes to data storage, there’s no such thing as too much. But hard drive makers are finding that as they try to pack more magnetic bits onto their discs, it becomes impossible to target just one with the magnetic field needed to write the data, because the field needed to change one bit would also rewrite its neighbors.

Scientists from the United States and Germany say they’ve come up with a new way of reading and writing data that does away with those sloppy magnetic fields. In today’s issue of Science , the researchers report that a particular type of electric current from a scanning tunneling microscope will switch the magnetic polarization of 100-atom iron ”nanoislands,” which take up only one six-hundredth the area of magnetic bits on a typical hard disc. The new method is still experimental: the data bits it creates are temporary, and the nanoislands must be cooled below the temperature of liquid nitrogen.

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The Ultimate Transistor Timeline

The transistor’s amazing evolution from point contacts to quantum tunnels

1 min read
A chart showing the timeline of when a transistor was invented and when it was commercialized.

Even as the initial sales receipts for the first transistors to hit the market were being tallied up in 1948, the next generation of transistors had already been invented (see “The First Transistor and How it Worked.”) Since then, engineers have reinvented the transistor over and over again, raiding condensed-matter physics for anything that might offer even the possibility of turning a small signal into a larger one.

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