(Roughly) Daily

Let’s get small…

Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, inventors of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (source: IBM)

Twenty years ago, technicians at IBM’s Almaden Research Lab pulled a nifty stunt with their scanning tunneling microscope (STM).  IBM scientists had invented the STM nine years earlier in IBM’s Zurich Lab (and received a Nobel prize for it in 1996); while the STM was originally intended simply to create visualizations of things very, very tiny, the folks at Almaden realized that the technique used– it “felt” the atoms in question with similarly-charged particles, then mapped the object– could be reversed:  the STM could change it’s charge, “pin” an atom, and move it…  The first illustration– and, some argue, the first example of “practical” nanotechnology– was this IBM logo, “written” in xenon atoms:

source: IBM

Over the last two decades, the STM has become a critical tool for chip makers, enabling them to perfect  current DRAM and flash memories.  Now, the folks at Almaden, still pushing the limits of their gear, they’ve turned their STMs into slo-mo movie cameras, and captured the atomic process of setting and erasing a bit on a single atom– that’s to say, of the operation of a single-atom DRAM.

Practical applications- atomic memories, better solar cells, and ultimately, atomic scale quantum computers– are, of course, some way off… but Moore’s Law seems safe for awhile.

Read all about it in EE Times.

As we drop the needle on that Steve Martin album, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that the Model T went on sale; it cost $825 (roughly equivalent to $20,000) today.  Ford’s advances in the technologies used both in the car and in its manufacture, along with economies of scale,  resulted in  steady price reductions over the next decade: by the 1920s, the price had fallen to $290 (equivalent to roughly $3,250 today).

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