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A boy and his atom

IBM Research says it is serious about inspiring interest in science. And its latest effort may well achieve that goal.

Several of the company's scientists recently put the finishing touches on "A Boy and His Atom," which has been certified by the Guinness World Records as the world's smallest-ever stop-motion film.

The project involved shooting 250 frames of a story built around a boy who goes on a playful journey involving dancing, bouncing on a trampoline, and playing catch. The noteworthy part? The film was made at the atomic level, using precisely-placed atoms that were manipulated over several days to tell the story.

Photo by: IBM Research

Legs bent

In order to create the 250 frames, a team of IBM researchers spent nine 18-hour days moving 130 atoms around with the company's Nobel Prize-winning scanning tunneling microscope.
Photo by: IBM Research

Scanning tunneling microscope

IBM Research scientists Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig won the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics for inventing the scanning tunneling microscope, the device used to precisely manipulate the atoms used in making the film. Last year, IBM Research broke new ground by using the scanning tunneling microscope to prove you could store a bit of information with as little as 12 atoms.
Photo by: IBM Research

Frames of atoms

It took four IBM Research employees nine 18-hour days to shoot the 250 frames used in "A boy and his atom."
Photo by: IBM Research

Jumping high

IBM Research principal investigator Andreas Heinrich said he hopes that the film will get people excited about science and technology.
Photo by: IBM Research

Boy hops

In order to move the atoms around with such precision, the IBM team used a computer to remotely-operate an extremely sharp needle on a copper surface. The needle is placed just one nanometer (a billionth of a meter) away from the surface, allowing it to physically attract the atoms and molecules on the surface in order to move them around to exactly where they were needed.
Photo by: IBM Research

Boy with atom

When an atom was moved, it made a distinct sound that could be recognized by the scientists, which was essential for them to know that they'd gotten the atom in the exact position they wanted.
Photo by: IBM Research


Though the film is meant to generate new interest in science and technology, IBM couldn't resist the opportunity to do a little self-promotion.
Photo by: IBM Research

Star Trek

Even as IBM Research was using its scanning tunneling microscope to produce imagery for its world-record film, "A boy and his atom," they were also generating images that will be included in the iOS and Android app that will accompany the new feature film, "Star Trek Into Darkness."
Photo by: IBM Research

1 nanometer Enterprise

IBM researchers placed an extremely sharp needle one nanometer (a billionth of a meter) away from a copper surface in order to move individual atoms around for the production of imagery for the "Star Trek Into Darkness" mobile app. This included the creation of an extremely small USS Enterprise.
Photo by: IBM Research

Atomic Star Trek

The atomic-level filmmaking method was used to create multiple Star Trek images, including this one, depicting the "live long and prosper" sign at the atomic level.
Photo by: IBM Research


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