A Boy and His Atom

A Boy and His Atom

How do you make the world’s smallest movie? By moving atoms, one at a time. Certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, this stop motion animation made by IBM nanophysicists only lasts 60 seconds and shows a tiny atomic “boy” jumping on an atomic trampoline and playing with his ball atom, magnified 100 million times. It took 242 frames, each made by a scanning tunneling microscope that weighs 2 tons and operates at -268 degrees Celsius (or 450.5 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale). A needle comes within 1 nanometer of each atom (actually diatomic carbon monoxide), grabs and drags it across the surface of a tiny chip to a new location..you can hear the dragging sound in the “behind the scenes” movie.

Why was this movie made? According to Moore’s Law, chip performance doubles every 18 months, as the individual transistors become smaller. Currently, it takes about a million atoms to store individual bits of data, but IBM scientists see that number shrinking to 12. At this size, you could fit every movie made on your iPhone. Moving individual atoms precisely becomes important at these tiny dimensions. Hey, scientists like to have fun too! And, as Andreas Heinrich says, if a thousand kids watching A Boy and His Atom decide to go into science instead of law, that’s a win for #STEM . Sorry, lawyers, you had Law and Order 🙂


⚛ Watch: Moving Atoms: Making The World’s Smallest Movie


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34 Responses to A Boy and His Atom

  1. Hello Mam Rajini Rao 

  2. As was occasionally said by a former colleague wishing to seem “hip”, “Way kewl!  

    N.B.  Gender ascription here, however, seems biased.

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Very cool, indeed! The stick figure looks androgynous 🙂

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    I should add that IBM scientists Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer received the 1986 Nobel in Physics for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope. Here’s a short clip of the history: IBM Atomic Shorts: History of the scanning tunneling microscope

  5. Wesley Yeoh says:

    wow a 2 ton microscope! using something so large to see something so small

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    The resolution is  0.1 nm lateral resolution and 0.01 nm depth! I guess the large size is to stabilize the probe and keep it free from vibration, although according to Wiki hobbyists have built their own!

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    Thex Dar , you didn’t miss it by long….it was released yesterday 🙂

  8. 🙂 only you Rajini Rao , thanks.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, it was fun, wasn’t it Thex Dar ? (BTW, the link is in the post too). It was funny when that IBM scientist made the scraping sounds of the probe 🙂

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    Jose M. G. Guerreiro , may be there will be a sequel? 🙂

  11. i think this should be promoted to schools. great film very interesting

  12. I hope so Rajini Rao 🙂

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    Atom Boy has been gif-fed! Check out how super cute he is on Panah Rad ‘s post, guaranteed to make you smile 🙂


  14. Panah Rad says:

    Rajini Rao l am trying to get people to visit this post with that. haha 😀

  15. Panah Rad says:

    Rajini Rao this version is actually longer: http://i.imgur.com/tI6QMou.gif

  16. Rajini Rao says:

    Ooh, that longer gif is so much fun!

    As you can tell, I have a weakness for science/tech gifs 😉 If you find interesting ones, tag me and I’ll dig into the science aspect of it to make a more detailed post..like the chameleon’s tongue 🙂

  17. Panah Rad says:

    Rajini Rao absolutely 😀 I will

  18. My friend had a question that I don’t know how to answer:  If atoms make up everything, how did they separate them out to be filmed…or in other words, what’s in the empty space around the “ball” or the “boy”?

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Tonya Wershow , molecules and atoms do exist free in nature. In this specific case, they moved pairs of atoms that were in the form of a molecule. On the smooth surface of the chip, they deposited very few molecules of carbon monoxide (each made up of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom). The empty space between them was vacuum (in the chamber of the microscope).  

    Oxygen gas, for example is two atoms of oxygen paired together. Some elements can be found as single atoms. 

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    I misread that as atomic poem, Peter Lindelauf . I was so looking forward to your lyrical contribution 🙂

  21. Rajini Rao Super thanks for the answer!

  22. Mind blowing awesome… how amazing that we have developed technology to actually see (let alone manipulate) atoms!!!

  23. WOW!!!!!!

    My beak is boggled ……

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Martin Sacha I remember that image! Thanks for the link. BTW, I wanted to say that we do see individual radioactive decay in real time using ionization chambers, photographic plates, cloud or bubble chambers, etc. It’s possible the microscope probe would pick up ejection of an alpha particle, since it is quite large. But not beta or gamma rays. 

  25. Vijay Patil says:

    I still do not understand what does it mean when we say “seeing an atom”. In the movie atom look likes a solid sphere of metal. But really atom is made of nucleus and surrounded by electrons with lots of space between them. Where are the electrons? May be I should watch the other related videos.

  26. Bill Collins says:

    All those scifi stories about putting all of human knowledge into a tiny stone cube or similar small device are coming true. That’s awesome.

  27. Reminded me of the first computer game (was it Kong?).

  28. Thomas Kang says:

    Jagu Barot Perhaps you mean Pong? I remember having that as a kid. I thought it was the most amazing thing at the time.

  29. Thomas Kang says:

    I’m eagerly waiting for IBM to make the world’s smallest violin so that people stop doing the thing with their thumb and forefinger.

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