Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
IBM Technology

IBM Makes a Movie Out of Atoms 102

harrymcc writes "IBM's Almaden Research Center has a scanning tunneling microscope, a device invented by the company. It uses it to move individual atoms around — mostly for storage research. But it's created a 242-frame cartoon, A Boy and His Atom, using individual atoms as pixels. Guinness has certified it as the world's smallest movie." 242 frames, and ten 18-hour days of work by multiple people using a very tiny copper needle attached to an expensive machine to move the atoms around.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

IBM Makes a Movie Out of Atoms

Comments Filter:
  • by selectspec ( 74651 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @08:27AM (#43599739)

    What a waste of time.

  • But... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @08:30AM (#43599757)

    Isn't every movie made out of atoms?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How does that translate into DPI???

    • Re:DPI? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by saibot834 ( 1061528 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:08AM (#43600083)

      How does that translate into DPI???

      According to this [] report, the movie depicts an area of 45 x 25 nanometers. I use the body of the stickman to approximate pixels, which gives me about 30 pixels in height. Which translates to 3 * 10^7 [] DPI. Which will be in your iPhone 71's über-retina display (assuming dpi grows exponentially). Although it's really debatable if your eye is capable of making use of such a high resolution.

      • Re:DPI? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Mystakaphoros ( 2664209 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:32AM (#43600293) Homepage
        Thanks for doing the math. I had it all written out and was starting to work on it, and I actually had to go *do my job.* Do they not realize what important work we do here in Slashdot discussions?
        • Yeah, that's the problem with you Americans. Your don't acknowledge that all important Slashdot stories occur on May 1, and thus you need to get a free day at that day. All other countries have a free day today.

      • Re:DPI? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:32AM (#43600297)

        Past a certain point, super-high resolution could get quite interesting: once your "pixel" structures get smaller than visible light wavelengths, you can use them to form interference patterns to not only control the brightness, but also the wavefront shape of transmitted light --- A.K.A. holograms. Then you get a "true" 3D display, which recreates the proper relation between binocular depth perception and how far out each eye is focused.

        • But how would you handle addressing all those pixels? You'd also need either a supercomputer-in-a-box to render the image, or a storage medium with the speed and capacity to playback a prerecorded hologram.

          Assuming you want motion, that is. If you can just print fixed pixels small enough, you can print holograms. This approach limits you still to monochromatic images - you need changeable pixels if you want to do the R-G-B interleave to simulate color images.

          • Yes, there are many other engineering/technology hurdles to cross to usefully generate dynamic holograms. However, I don't think there's anything particularly impassable in this case.

            With such display technology, I doubt you'd think in terms of addressing/storing individual "pixels" in one "centralized" place; instead, you might have hardware DSPs behind "macropixels" ("normal pixel"-sized arrays of the light-wavelength-scale micropixels) which would receive 3D models and calculate the transform into the in

            • Trying to interleve colored pixels would lead to horrible interference problems degrading image quality. I was thinking of temporal interleave, like how a DLP projector does it. You'd need to be able to generate and display holograms at 75fps though. The hypothetical 'holoprojector' surface basically is just a DLP chip, but crazily more precise and many times larger.

              • Spatially interleaving color pixels would produce issues similar to viewing the world through a window screen --- yes, there are diffraction artifacts, but it's not a completely horrible unrecognizable view. Furthermore, you could move to non-periodic tilings for the colors which would eliminate obvious diffraction spikes. Temporal interleaving would indeed work too (and better in some aspects); we'll have to get a lot closer to production-ready technology than we currently are to assess what particular app

          • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

            I think at that point you'd be producing vibrations, oscillations or disruption patterns specific to the regions you need to change... an analog signal I suppose. Your CRT tv takes an analog signal and displays it on an analog screen. Digital might not be the way to go here.

          • But how would you handle addressing all those pixels? You'd also need either a supercomputer-in-a-box to render the image

            I'm sure they'll have that reasonably worked out by the time the iPhone 71 is the "best iPhone ever".

            Battery life will probably suck, though... hoping they get some advancements on that front, too.

      • by Eivind ( 15695 )

        Features that are smaller than the wavelength of the light you use to view them with aren't even debatable from a theorhethical standpoint.

        • theorhethical

          What's that? "Theological rhetorical ethics"? Damn, those humanities departments are getting completely out of control. No idea how you'd debate things from a theorhethical standpoint, but it sounds messy.

          Anyway, from a theoretical standpoint, see my post above --- sub-wavelength structures are handy for holographic manipulation of light wavefronts. While there are diminishing returns from going way smaller than viewing light wavelengths (atomic scale would be overkill), control over feature scales in the l

  • The plot (Score:5, Funny)

    by Virtex ( 2914 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @08:37AM (#43599815)
    A sodium atom and a potassium atom are walking down the street when suddenly the sodium atom stops with a concerned look. "I just lost an electron" he said. "Are you sure?" asked the potassium atom. The sodium atom replied with, "Yeah, I'm positive."
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @08:41AM (#43599853) Homepage


    I can't wait for the sequel.

  • by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @08:49AM (#43599927)
    YouTube video of the movie "A Boy and his Atom": []

    The making of the world's smallest movie: []"

    By Larry Greenemeier, Scientific Amererican:

    What is the “final frontier”? Star Trek fans will tell you it’s space. Filmmaker/aquanaut James Cameron will tell you it’s the ocean’s depths. IBM, however, is thinking much smaller.

    The company’s research division on Wednesday released a stop-motion movie whose main character is a stick figure only a few atoms in size. “A Boy and His Atom” is the story, not surprisingly, of a character named Atom who befriends a single atom and proceeds to play with his new friend by dancing, playing catch and bouncing on a trampoline. It may not be an Oscar-winning script, but the performance does mark a breakthrough in scientists’ ability to capture, position and shape individual atoms with precision using temperature, pressure and vibrations.

    “Think of this as Claymation—you shape your Wallace and Gromit, put them in your scene and take a picture of it,” says Andreas Heinrich, principle investigator at IBM Research. “Then you change the position of the characters and take another picture.” Heinrich and his team arranged and rearranged atoms to create 242 distinct frames later stitched together to make their movie, which Guinness World Records has certified as the tiniest stop-motion film ever made.

    IBM researchers relied on a bit of movie magic to bring Atom to life (see video below). Each of the dots used to make the character is actually a molecule of carbon monoxide resting on a copper surface, framed so that the audience can see only the oxygen atoms (the carbon atoms are off screen). The researchers used a two-ton scanning tunneling microscope to magnify the atoms’ surfaces more than 100 million times. The microscope features an extremely sharp needle that the researchers used to move the molecules to specific locations.

    This ability to manipulate individual atoms has big implications for the future of computing and communications. Engineers have managed to shrink certain components within today’s magnetic disk drives down to a few dozen nanometers. “We’re interested in exploring data movement and storage at the atomic scale,” the stuff of quantum computing, Heinrich says. Whereas a classic computer uses bits—a zero or a one—to store information, a quantum computer lets you—in principle at least—have a zero and a one at the same time in a quantum bit (or a qubit).” If you can do both of these at the same time, you can calculate answers faster than any computer using classic bits,” he says, adding that his lab’s mission is to determine whether atoms can someday be harnessed for computation and data storage.

    In a tie-in with the upcoming film "Star Trek into Darkness," IBM Research created this nanometer-sized image of the Enterprise. Courtesy of IBM Research.

    IBM researchers decided to make their movie last year after publishing the results of years of atomic storage experiments, Heinrich says. “The general public should know about this kind of work and be interested in it,” he adds. “The best way to do that is to make a movie that is told in the language of science although doesn’t necessarily tell a scientific story. It tells a human story of a boy dancing with his friend.” []

    • Atom jokes are fine, but the parent is the first interesting or informative comment on the whole thread.

      The "making of" linked at the end of the movie is well made and stimulating. I particularly liked this comment from the director of the project:

      "If I can do this and I can get a thousand kids join science, rather than go to law school, I would be super happy".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Atoms of what!? Oh, not atoms at all, but molecules of Carbon Monoxide (CO), which I technically still comprised of atoms, just not on their own.
    See the video 'Moving Atoms: Making The World's Smallest Movie' at 1:42 (!)
    Marketing FTW!!
    Although they still get their message across.

    • It does seem a bit funny to emphasize moving "individual atoms" when they are really molecules. I think manipulating a two element molecule is just as impressive, but why not just say that so as to be correct?

      The first thing that struck me while watching the video is that many of the "atoms" appear to be a pair of dots, although one is much less prominent. I would have expected an atom to appear as a single dot. They say that you can only see the oxygen atoms, that the carbon atoms are "off screen". I wond

  • by theurge14 ( 820596 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:10AM (#43600105)

    A big bang, if you will.

  • my movie is animated, so it is only made of electrons - top that IBM!
  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @11:48AM (#43601615)

    ...than Twilight. And that copper atom blows Kristen Stewart away as an actress.

  • What this demonstrates is a manufacturing method for producing nanoscale machinery. The concept is, with a series of simple experiments conducted in many labs, enough data is obtained to create an accurate nanoscale design simulation. (many of this experiments have been done already). You would then design a set of nanoscale machine parts - sensors, motors, gears, and so on in the software then create prototypes very laboriously and at very high cost using a tool like this microscope at IBM.

    Once you have

  • From the Timetech article: >And the animation is rudimentary — it’s monochromatic, blocky and... Yeah, right, next time it'll be better, they will use colored atoms and do antialiasing with fragments of atoms ! (I'd expect that someone who writes an article about physics at least understands some of the basic properties of atoms. Oh well, this is 2013...)
  • Rom is going to make a movie out of Quark's
    I hope he got the Holosuite customers to sign the disclaimer forms

  • but, you do realize that IBM have basically turned this into another one of those pointless corporate advertisements that you might see on TV? the GE jet engine adverts..or the siemens ones with spaceX mentioned.. you know, things the average consumer buys..

    this is one of those.

    neat 'science' tho!

Chairman of the Bored.