Scientists measure the force needed to move an atom
For the first time, scientists at IBM and Regensburg University have exactly measured the minute force needed to move an atom on a surface. As reported in Science magazine, a force of exactly 210 piconewtons is needed to move a cobalt atom on a flat platinum surface, while on a copper surface only 17 piconewtons are sufficient. A force of 30 billion piconewtons, on the other hand, is required to lift a 2 eurocent coin weighing three grams, said the article. In their experiments, scientists not only measured individual forces but also investigated how the surface and atom influence each other. This marks a scientific breakthrough which provides important insights for the development of nanocomponents and nanoelectronics, such as future processors and miniature memory, said the paper.
With increased miniaturisation, traditional technologies will hit insurmountable physical limits in the foreseeable future. In a similar way to how bridge construction requires detailed knowledge of the physical properties of the materials used, including how they react to forces, science now needs even deeper basic understanding of the processes and relationships at direct atomic level for developing innovative computer architectures and manufacturing processes based on structures which consist of only a few atoms, said the scientists.
IBM scientist Don Eigler was the first to demonstrate controlled manipulation of individual atoms with atomic precision by forming the letters I-B-M from 35 Xenon atoms in 1989. Andreas Heinrich, chief scientist at the scanning tunnelling microscopy lab at IBM's research centre in California hopes that the ability to measure the forces involved in such a manoeuvre will move nanotechnology from science to engineering: "Our mission is to create the foundation for what could someday be called the 'IBM nanoconstruction' company".