Canadian Mining Journal


HOLMIUM: IBM scientists store 1 bit of data on a single atom

The following information was passed along by Matamec Explorations, 72% owner of the Kipawa rare earths joint venture in Quebec. The project is under development by 28% owner Ressources Quebec, and holmium oxide will be produced at a rate 31.2 tonnes per year over the eight-year life of the project.

Recently a team of IBM’s nano-science researchers discovered the ability to store one bit (1b) of data on a single holmium (Ho) atom. The breakthrough findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature earlier this month (cf. Nature, vol. 543 pp. 226-228, 9 March 2017).

The researchers were able to use a single holmium atom as the “world’s smallest magnet,” and by passing an electrical current through the holmium, they can turn it “on” to a state representing the “1” of the binary code, or “off”, which represents the “0” state.

The researchers basically demonstrated that two magnetic holmium atoms could be switched on or off independently, even when they were separated by just one nanometer – a distance one millionth the width of a pin head. With so little space needed to store data, the discovery could lead to the creation of radically smaller hard drives and data storage systems with much greater capacities for storage – about 1,000 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.

Although it may take time for the many possible commercial applications to come to market, the discovery of the ability to save a single bit of data on a holmium atom represents a quantum leap in data storage technology and offers great potential for computing. An entire computer’s hard drive could possibly be stored in a piece of jewelry or sewn into a garment, for example, and smaller data storage devices could greatly improve the evolving internet of things applications, where more and more everyday items can be connected to the Internet.

Learn more about Matamec and the Kipawa project at

Rendering of the mature Kipawa pit (left) and waste rock storage.

Print this page

Related Posts

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *