IBM makes stop-motion film using atoms as pixels

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2013-05-01

IBM Research

IBM has made a stop-motion filmA Boy and His Atom—using individual molecules as pixels, in what Guinness has acknowledged is the world's smallest movie.

The movie's plot line depicts a character called Atom who befriends a single atom and goes on a "playful journey." This journey involves dancing, jumping on a trampoline, and playing catch. It's unlikely to win any Oscars, but that's not really the point; it's designed to get people inspired about science.

IBM moved the molecules using two of its own scanning tunnelling microscopes. It's a huge machine that weighs two tons, operates at minus 268 degrees Celsius and magnifies atoms—placed on a copper surface—by 100 million times. The machine moved around 5,000 carbon monoxide molecules to create the movie. Each time the molecules were arranged in the right way, the IBM team rendered a still image to create each of the 242 frames. In those frames, you can only see one atom or pixel because you look at it from above. It took roughly 10 days of 18-hour shifts to get each frame right.

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