Stop frame animation made with atoms. Yes, at the atomic level!

This scanning tunneling microscope is one of two that have been built in-house at IBM Research – Almaden and it is used to image and move atoms

IBM is researching how small they can make transistors or memory devices. In the process they built a system for moving individual carbon monoxide molecules…they were exploring “how small can you make a magnet and still use it for data storage?”

The work is only visible if you use a microscope that enlarges the ‘canvas’ by 100 million times. Using their techniques developed over years of researching atomic level data storage, IBM created 250 frame stop-motion animation of a boy playing with an atom.



IBM at their San Jose Almaden research facility, needed to use 2 scanning tunneling atomic microscopes, (at minus 260+ degrees Celsius), to record the action. The microscope moved a “super-sharp” needle to within 1 nanometre of a copper surface, which then could attract and physically move each atom, one by one. In reality each point is a molecule, with their research a single bit of information is stored by 12 atoms. So 1 byte of information (8 bits) is stored in 96 atoms.

To store the word fxguide would be 7 bytes or just an incredible 672 atoms, (7x 8x 12 ). This application of atomic level data storage is the end goal but the animation showcases just how much control the company has at an atomic level. It is a stunt, but what a great – brilliant – incredible stunt it is !  IBM’s major areas of research at Almaden including research into fundamental science, nanotechnology, spin physics and photoresists.. to name a few.

Below a “How they did it”, an IBM promotional behind the scenes…

They literally move atoms around one at a time, take a frame and repeat, the project’s principle investigator Andreas Heinrich commented “this is a very challenging task – no one, as far as we know (- including ourselves), has ever moved 5000 atoms”.





In addition to the short film, IBM also created some exclusive atomic imagery for the upcoming film Star Trek: Into Darkness, iphone Ap. – (S.M.H).





2 thoughts on “Stop frame animation made with atoms. Yes, at the atomic level!”

  1. Just occurred to me … would this be the most expensive animation ever created in the history of man (per second)?
    I cant imagine the pre-pro R&D nor the ‘film gear’ are cheap!!

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