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Animated film made with single atoms

By Hamish Johnston

Billed as the world’s smallest movie, an animated film made using single atoms has been released by scientists working at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in the US. Called A Boy and his Atom, the production was made using a scanning tunnelling microscope tip to push individual atoms around on a surface – a technology that was invented at IBM in 1981.

Made by Andreas Heinrich and colleagues, the animation comprises 242 single frames in which a boy called Adam is drawn using 100 or so atoms on a surface. His atom companion is played by just one atom that bops around on the surface.

The image is magnified 100 million times and, incredibly, you can even see ripples in the surface-electron density around the atoms. This gives the characters a wonderful halo that shimmers around them.

Heinrich’s day job is investigating ways of using single atoms to store data. A second video called The Making of a Boy and his Atom includes contributions from his research group explaining why they are interested in pushing around atoms.

A number of different films about single-atom technology can be viewed here.

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  1. M. Asghar

    Wonderful, though, more and more in the nature of things to come and to be lived with, this agile Johny composed out of hairy (electrons) atoms!

  2. Oleg Gaiko

    Very good! Thank you.

  3. reader01

    I think there exist many “animated pictures” of atoms scanning by tunneling microscop that can be used for animation production of movie. Just to go to data storage from befor and let computer to do its ( animated ) job.

  4. READER01

    It can be interesting to listen to all pictures made by tunneling microscop. Maybe we can make not only movie, but also songs, a real quantum songs.

  5. READER01

    Also it could be interesting, if we can transfer quantum data by this pictures. Instead of equation to have pictures of atoms that play with electrons…

  6. reader01

    Is not it possible to move atom by laser? Such laser touch ( energy ) needed for moving atom can be measured by STM. We can measure precise energy for the lenght of the move and for direction of the move. We can then have all energies and direction of the movie. Such measurment can be used for complicated quantum calculations that can be easy calculated by energy-direction calculation. But for the first we need to learn haw to use laser by this way…


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