Science News

Quickfire Science - World's Tiniest Film

Thu, 2nd May 2013

Pete Skidmore, Elena Teh

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You might have seen this week that researchers at the computing company IBM have entered the Guinness Book of World Records. They've created the world's smallest movie about a boy befriending and playing with an atom. But the actors in this 90-second clip are carbon monoxide molecules. 

Here's your Quickfire Science about how the film was made from Naked Scientists Elena Teh and Pete Skidmore.

Pete - The movie was made by moving carbon monoxide molecules one at a time across a couple of surface.

Elena - The molecules were moved with a scanning tunnelling microscope which magnified them 100 million times. That's the equivalent of making an orange look the size of the earth.

Pete - Scanning tunnelling microscopes have a needle tip 1 atom wide which can be very delicately controlled to scan the surface of an object.

Elena - If the needle moves close enough to a molecule, the molecule will stick to it because the same force which makes gecko stick to walls, the Van der Waals force.

Pete - The molecule can then be dragged around to any location that the researchers choose.

Elena - During this process, the molecules were kept at minus 260 degrees centigrade to make sure they stayed still and didn't vibrate due to heat.

Pete - Once moved, the molecules stayed in their new position because they form chemical bonds with the copper atoms in the surface underneath.

Elena - The scientists then took an image of the molecules which made up each frame of the film.

Pete - Four scientists worked for 2 weeks to make the 90-second video.

Elena - Researchers hope that in the future, laying out atoms and molecules in different configurations can be used to store data more compactly.

Peter - This will work by using the molecules to replace the 0s and 1s in computer data.

 

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