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.