These orderly patterns of dark blue dots indicate where individual chlorine atoms are missing from an otherwise regular grid of atoms. Scientists manipulated these vacancies to create a supersmall data storage device.
The locations of vacancies encode bits of information in the device, which Sander Otte of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and colleagues describe July 18 in Nature Nanotechnology. The team arranged and imaged the vacancies using a scanning tunneling microscope. The storage system, which can hold a kilobyte of data, must be cooled to a chilly −196° Celsius to work.
To demonstrate the technique, the researchers transcribed an excerpt from a famous 1959 lecture by physicist Richard Feynman, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” which predicted the importance of nanotechnology. In each block, paired rows represent letters. Blocks marked with an “X” were unusable. The encoded 159 words of text fill a region a ten-thousandth of a millimeter wide.
If scaled up, the researchers say, the technology could store the full contents of the U.S. Library of Congress in a cube a tenth of a millimeter on each side.