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Every time you Instagram a picture of the foam art on your coffee or leave a comment on a YouTube video, it contributes to the more than a billion gigabytes of new data we produce every day.

As this number continues to increase, we are starting to run out of space to store the data; even the tiniest data storage element uses thousands of atoms to store one piece of information.

Now for the first time, scientists have created a way to store information atom by atom to produce the smallest hard disk ever made, which could lead the way to much more efficient data storage.

Cloud storage systems require large spaces and a lot of energy, particularly to keep up with the increasing amount of information produced by society.

Decreasing the number of atoms needed to store information would help solve the problem. 

In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman speculated that if a platform could arrange individual atoms in an exact orderly pattern, it would be possible to store one piece of information per atom. 

Now a group of scientists from Delft University in the Netherlands think they have found a way to do exactly this. 

They built a memory of 1 kilobyte (8,000 bits), where each bit is represented by the position of one single chlorine atom. 

'In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp', said lead scientist Professor Sander Otte.

The researchers reached a storage density of 500 Terabits per square inch (Tbpsi), 500 times better than the best commercial hard disk currently available.

The team used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), in which a sharp needle probes the atoms of a surface, one by one.

This lets the scientists see the atoms as well as using the probes to push the atoms around. 

'You could compare it to a sliding puzzle', Professor Otte said. 

'Every bit consists of two positions on a surface of copper atoms, and one chlorine atom that we can slide back and forth between these two positions. 

'If the chlorine atom is in the top position, there is a hole beneath it - we call this a 1. If the hole is in the top position and the chlorine atom is therefore on the bottom, then the bit is a 0.'

The only problem is that for the technique to work, a temperature of almost -200 degrees Celsius (-328F) must be reached in a near-perfect vacuum.

Despite this, the scientists believe that further development of the ground-breaking technique could massively reduce the size of our ever growing need for vast data centres.

The new approach offers excellent prospects in terms of stability and scalability.

But shoppers should not expect these tiny memory cards to be available on the shelves any time soon.

Professor Otte said: 'In its current form the memory can operate only in very clean vacuum conditions and at liquid nitrogen temperature (77 K or -195C), so the actual storage of data on an atomic scale is still some way off.

'But through this achievement we have certainly come a big step closer'. 

Source: Dailymail.co.uk

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