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On Wednesday, May 1st, 2013, a group of nanophysicists from tech giant IBM unveiled their first production - A Boy And His Atom. However, the one-minute blockbuster that has already won the Guinness World Record Award for the smallest stop-motion film, is not an attempt by the tech company to get into the movie business, but a way to showcase future technology and more importantly, get young kids interested in a future in science, by demonstrating how fun it can be.
As the name indicates the movie, which is about a boy dancing and playing with a toy, stars . . just atoms - from a few dozen Carbon monoxide molecules. As you can imagine, working with these nano stars was not for the faint of heart.
Given that each frame measures just 45 by 25 nanometers it had to be magnified 100 million times, to even be seen. To give you an idea of how small that is, it takes 25 million nanometers to make an inch. Also, since the Carbon monoxide molecules are full of energy, they had to be calmed or 'chilled' before filming by cooling the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) used to magnify them to -260°F.
After that began the painstaking and complicated process of creating each frame by running a tiny needle on the STM across the surface of a piece of copper, the size of a postage stamp. Positioned at a distance of within one nanometer from the Carbon monoxide molecule, the needle was able to magnetically attract atoms from the molecule and place them carefully to the desired spot. Each and everyone of the movie's 242 frames was created by a different image. It is therefore not surprising that it took four scientists, two-weeks of 18-hour days, to produce this movie at the corporation's San Jose, CA office
According to Andreas Heinrich, a principal investigator at IBM Research, the magnetic properties of atoms on surfaces like the one demonstrated here, has practical applications like data storage for devices like cell phones. While current smart phones can store maybe one or two movies, a chip using atoms could possibly have the capacity to download all the movies ever produced.
However, that is something for the future - For now he just hopes that this cool movie has convinced at least some kids that science can be a lot of fun! Are you one of them? Be sure to let Andreas and us know, but adding your comment below!
Resources: dailymail.co.uk, npr.org