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The World's Smallest Movie

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Screen shot from world's smallest movie: "A Boy and His Atom," by IBM.

On April 30, 2013 scientists at IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, California unveiled and mounted on YouTube what they called "the world's smallest movie," which tracks the movement of atoms magnified 100 million times. When I viewed the motion picture on the morning of May 1, 2013 it had already been viewed 84,000 times.

The video, A Boy and his Atom depicts a boy named Atom who befriends a single atom and follows him on a journey of dancing and bouncing that helps explain the science behind data storage. Using techniques it honed after years of researching atomic data storage, IBM created 250 stop-motion frames depicting a boy playing with his (pet? toy?) atom.

To manipulate single atoms in this way IBM used its two-ton scanning-tunnelling microscope, which operates at minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The microscope moved a "super-sharp" needle to within 1 nanometer of a copper surface, which then could attract and physically move each atom, one by one.  

"Capturing, positioning and shaping atoms to create an original motion picture on the atomic-level is a precise science and entirely novel," said Andreas Heinrich, a scientist at IBM Research" (, accessed 05-01-2013).

Along with the world's smallest movie, IBM also posted a highly informative documentary on the science and technology involved in making the movie entitled Moving Atoms: Making the World's Smallest Movie.

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