Quickfire Science - World's Tiniest Film

IBM have created the world's smallest movie using atoms - here's how they did it!
02 May 2013


Cartoon schematic of an atom


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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