It looks a little like a work from the early days of film making–a black and white motion picture of a simplistic drawing. But IBM’s stop motion animation “A Boy and His Atom” is actually a product of the future.
By using a chemical reaction, researchers at IBM can move atoms around as they please. They have created a simple story of a boy having a good time with an atom, made from carbon monoxide. The Guinness Book of World Records confirmed that this is, indeed, the smallest short film ever created.
We are able to see the atoms thanks to a scanning and tunneling electron microscope that magnifies an image about 100 million times. As demonstrated in the film’s behind-the-scenes video, that is the equivalent of magnifying an orange to the size of the Earth. The telescope weighs two tons and is kept at 268 degrees below zero Celsius. The atoms are moved along a small piece of copper by a needle held 1 nanometer away.
While the short film is empirically awesome, it has other functions besides inspiring awe. The film actually demonstrates IBM’s research in the field of atomic-scale memory. IBM has developed a way to store 1 bit of memory on just 12 atoms, and is working towards storing massive amounts of information on a single atom.
At a simpler level, the film’s purpose it to draw attention to science and what experimentation can achieve. “A Boy and His Atom” is a genius marketing move, both for IBM and for science in general. It’s generating a remarkable amount of buzz and after being uploaded to YouTube just 3 days ago, the film has over 2 million views. Andreas Heinrich, Principal Investigator at IBM Research says of the project, “If I can do this by making a movie and I can get 1,000 kids to join science rather than go into law school, I’d be super happy.”
IBM is also using their atomic manipulation technology to advertise Star Trek: Into Darkness, making what is no doubt the world’s smallest movie poster.
And the challenge is set forth–who can make a smaller movie? Manipulating subatomic particles? Characters made from Higgs boson? Technology has to catch up, first.