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Atomic moving company


Working with the University of Regensburg in Germany, IBM scientists have for the first time measured the force it takes to move individual atoms on a surface. The data offer an important foundation for designing future atomic-scale devices.

“This result provides fundamental information about atomic scale fabrication and could pave the way for new data storage and memory devices,” said Andreas Heinrich, lead scientist in the scanning tunneling microscopy lab at the IBM Almaden Research Center. “Our mission is to create the foundation for what could someday be called the IBM nanoconstruction company.”

In a paper, “The Force Needed to Move an Atom on a Surface,” the scientists show that the force required to move a cobalt atom over a smooth platinum surface is 210 piconewtons, while moving a cobalt atom over a copper surface takes only 17 piconewtons. To put this in perspective, the force required to lift a copper penny that weighs just three grams is nearly 30 billion piconewtons, 2 billion times greater than the force to move a single cobalt atom over a copper surface.

Understanding the force necessary to move specific atoms on specific surfaces is one of the keys to designing and constructing the small structures that will enable future nanotechnologies. Just as modern construction relies on knowing the strength of different building materials, nanoconstruction would need information on which atoms to use in rigid structures and which would move easily.


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