Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

Watch This: The World's Smallest Movie, Animated with Atoms

D-briefBy Lisa RaffenspergerMay 1, 2013 11:37 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

boy-and-atom.jpg

This movie by IBM, called "A Boy and His Atom," plays out in frames smaller than the tip of a needle, using actors constructed of single molecules. It's whimsical, sure, but the underlying technology is one that researchers across the globe are actively investigating for its use in creating smaller computer chips. The surface of the animation is a copper plate, and the individual dots are carbon monoxide molecules. (Carbon monoxide has one carbon atom and one oxygen atom, stacked on top of each other.) The molecules are manipulated using a scanning tunneling microscope

, an instrument for imaging materials at an atomic level. When the sharp metal tip of the microscope is brought extremely close to a carbon monoxide molecule, a chemical reaction creates an attraction between the two, and the molecule will then follow where the needle is dragged. The waves seen around the molecules are a disturbance in the electron density in the copper atoms on the base-plate. When a carbon monoxide molecule comes close to the plate, the electrons in the copper atoms are displaced. Because they can’t escape the surface of the copper, they protrude, like ripples in a pond. See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSCX78-8-q0

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In