Print 21 comment(s) - last by mindless1.. on May 5 at 3:09 PM

  (Source: IBM)
Researchers also make tiny Star Trek stills

Dubbed "A Boy and His Atom" and certified by the Guinness World Book of Records as being the smallest movie ever created by mankind, International Business Machine Inc.'s (IBM) scanning tunneling microscope (STM) technology demonstration is generating an Oscar worthy buzz.

I. Directed by Tunneling Electrons

While the eventual goal of the IBM team is to use the STM or its successors to manipulate atoms to form tiny components like memory or transistors, IBM focused on as more light-hearted proof of concept.

In a one minute animation consisting of 242 frames of stop motion animation, with each frame measuring roughly 45 x 25 nanometers, the IBM researchers create a vivid scene of a boy befriending an "atom", then engaging in activities like "dancing, playing catch and bouncing on a trampoline."  

In total 65 carbon monoxide molecules (consisting of two atoms each, for 130 total atoms) were positioned to create the objects in frame.  The dots seen in frame are the oxygen atoms in the molecule.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas that is lethal to humans when inhaled in sufficient quantities.

In addition to the tiny movie, researchers also created a trio of stills to promote the upcoming Star Trek movie, Into Darkness.  

IBM Star Trek IBM Vulcan salute IBM Enterprise stills
(Click to enlarge) [Image Source: IBM]

The stills show the iconic Federation logo, a Vulcan salute, and a tiny Starship Enterprise.

II. Towards <20 Atom Devices

IBM's Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for the invention of the STM, which allowed the first visualization of atoms.  The STM works via hovering a tiny super-pointy copper probe over the surface.  At 1 nm from the material surface the probe receives a small dose of tunneling electrons.  The tool "scans" the surface, by moving parallel to the surface and adjusting the probe up and down to maintain constant current via the tunneling effect.

STMs can also be used to manipulate atoms on a nanoscopic scale.  Moving atoms creates a unique sound, which IBM's equipment measures to determine how far it's been moved. 

Christopher Lutz, Research Scientist, IBM Research, describes the STM used in the animation demo, remarking, "It weighs two tons, operates at a temperature of -268º Celsius (~-450º Fahrenheit) and magnifies the atomic surface over 100 million times. The ability to control the temperature, pressure and vibrations at exact levels makes our IBM Research lab one of the few places in the world where atoms can be moved with such precision."

The cold temperatures are necessary to keep the atoms standing almost still; at room temperature they would oscillate making it impossible to achieve accurate manipulation.

IBM last January published a study on the use of STM technology to create the world's smallest memory device -- a 12-atom iron (Fe) magnet, which can store a bit of data.  Current memory circuits take around 1 million atoms.

A high quality atomic-scale STM can cost up to $150,000 USD or more [source].  If you like hobby electronics and can dig up and oscilloscope, you can make your own crude STM for around $150 USD, according to this guide.

Sources: IBM, YouTube

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By Creig on 5/1/2013 11:53:43 AM , Rating: 5
Well, just about anything can be lethal to humans when taken in sufficient quantities. So I'm not sure why it was necessary to emphasize the potential lethality of Carbon Monoxide.

If you want to comment about deadly substances, you should be warning people about Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO). Now THAT is some scary stuff, especially when injested in large doses.

By MrBlastman on 5/1/2013 3:58:12 PM , Rating: 2
It might be old but you can still nail people with it. Try it on your relatives sometime. You'd be surprised. :)

(Your Mother-in-Law especially if you can't stand her.)

By borismkv on 5/1/2013 5:18:09 PM , Rating: 4
Heh...Penn and Teller got a boatload of environmentalists at a convention to sign petitions asking to ban DHMO...I laughed.

By Apone on 5/2/2013 1:15:31 PM , Rating: 2
Ha Ha Yes! I love the classic Dihydrogen Monoxide gag! Even though it's dated, it still gets people flustered on what it really is!

By JKflipflop98 on 5/5/2013 1:46:18 AM , Rating: 2
Not to mention that H2O actually is quite deadly.

By jimhsu on 5/1/2013 2:29:54 PM , Rating: 4
True, and carbon monoxide is also an important and possibly essential signaling molecule in the human body. Yes, nature is weird.

In 1991, Marks and colleagues predicted that there was a metabolic reason and a physiological meaning for the production of CO in our bodies (Marks et al., 1991). This pioneering thinking stirred up the resurgence of CO as a physiological signaling molecule (Wang, 1998). Two years later, Snyder's research team provided the first comprehensive evidence for the role of CO as an endogenous neural messenger, based on the effect of HO inhibitors and the histological location of HO (Verma et al., 1993). Rattan and Chakder (1993), also using HO inhibitors, demonstrated that endogenous CO was involved in the relaxation of opossum internal anal sphincter (IAS) in response to nonadrenergic noncholinergic (NANC) nerve stimulation.


The direct relevance of the HO/CO pathway to human health was drawn by the reported first human case of HO-1 deficiency in Japan in 1999 (Yachie et al., 1999; Ohta et al., 2000). This HO-1 deficient patient died at age 6, showing growth retardation, anemia, thrombocytosis, hyperlipidemia, leukocytosis, elevated serum levels of ferritin and heme, and lower serum levels of bilirubin.

By bah12 on 5/1/2013 4:25:38 PM , Rating: 2
Typical DT BS buzzwords, can't just let this amazing video stand on its own they have to drum up some fake drama just for clicks. Truely pathetic, and just takes away from a very cool news item indeed.

By mindless1 on 5/5/2013 3:09:29 PM , Rating: 2
I feel exactly the same way about Taco Bell.

By bobsmith1492 on 5/1/13, Rating: 0
RE: movie?
By MrBlastman on 5/1/2013 12:55:10 PM , Rating: 2
Hardly a movie by quite an accomplishment. I'm sure Bohr or Einstein would be giggling over this had they lived to see it.

RE: movie?
By Mortando on 5/1/2013 4:38:47 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, what does displaying a series of still images in quick succession to give the illusion of motion have to do with 'movies'...

RE: movie?
By bobsmith1492 on 5/1/2013 8:15:59 PM , Rating: 2
It's more like a "cartoon" than live-action.

RE: movie?
By ipay on 5/2/2013 10:19:05 AM , Rating: 2
His point was movie playback is a series of still images, regardless of how the recording was made.

What an inane title
By Dorkyman on 5/1/2013 11:59:45 AM , Rating: 5
I suppose you can explain the value of the word "deadly."

Next week, you'll probably report of a schoolboy riding his bike to school on "shockingly round tires!"

65 carbon monoxide molecules is not deadly
By Dug on 5/1/2013 3:16:37 PM , Rating: 2
You might want to research how much carbon monoxide and how much time is needed for it to be considered deadly.

By kmonkmon on 5/1/2013 5:01:00 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly what I was thinking!

By Spookster on 5/1/2013 6:54:44 PM , Rating: 2
Let me know when we get to see some deadly carbon monoxide porn.

Quite pathetic
By TexMurphy on 5/2/2013 4:54:03 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sorry Jason - I know you have a sensationalist style but this is taking the... mick.

Did anyone die during the making of this movie? Was anyone at risk friend dying due to the use of carbon monoxide in this movie?

Do you have some kind of personal vendetta against IBM or is it just the unquenchable thirst for page views? Either you own this site or you have pictures of those who do in questionable positions with animals.

Yard sticks are pathetic!
By iamkyle on 5/2/2013 10:19:02 PM , Rating: 2
All cool things are in metric for example here's just one!
"I've got my nine!" well that's 9 millimetres
Sounds cooler than 1.2something inches gun!

Beautiful Atom and his Package reference in the pic!

Clap! Clap!
By Arnepaul on 5/1/2013 10:49:10 AM , Rating: 1
(The world's smallest standing ovation.)

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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