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A tiny motorized table that is able to slide sideways in increments measured in atom-widths could offer a way to vastly increase computers’ memory capacity. The “micro-mover,” as it’s called by its inventors at Agilent Laboratories in Palo Alto, CA, is carved into a silicon chip three millimeters wide. The mover sits on two sets of flexible legs that bend slightly under electrostatic forces; one set flexes in the north-south direction, the other east-west. In this way, the device can skate to any of a billion positions in increments of five nanometers-about the width of a dozen atoms, says Farid Matta, manager of the group that built the device. Researchers have long envisioned memory devices that would pack bits as closely as individual molecules in a solid material, but any such storage device requires “something that moves under the read-write tool to allow you to write a one or a zero in a new spot,” Matta explains. The micro-mover is sprightly and precise enough to do that with individual molecules, he says-potentially writing up to 125 megabytes of data in an area only 50 micrometers on a side.


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