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FILE - In this July 16, 2013, file photo, an IBM logo is displayed in Berlin, Vt. IBM reports financial results Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

IBM made a single atom into the world's smallest hard drive


No matter how much space your phone has, it's not this efficient.

IBM announced Wednesday it had found a way to store data on a single atom of the element holmium. 

It's only a bit of data (literally a one or a zero), but if this technique caught on, it would let you store all 26 million songs on iTunes on a device the size of a penny, CNET reports.

We are starting at individual atoms, and building up from there to invent new information technologies.
Chris Lutz

That said, don't expect it anytime soon. IBM researcher Chris Lutz said the technique is still decades from hitting the market. It would need to become much cheaper to replicate, faster, and longer-lasting. The data in the original experiment only lasted a few hours. 

How they did it

A single atom of holmium was placed on magnesium oxide. A microscope then shot a small amount of electric current through that atom to reorient the atom, with each orientation representing either a one or a zero. That's the basis of binary code, the building block for all modern computing. 

Here's a look at the machine it takes to make this possible.

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