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40 Copies of Encyclopedia Britannica On the Head of a Single Pin

For the past 50 years, a special game has been played that involves the developing field of nanotechnology. The game: How small can you write something?

In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman argued that no physical barriers prevented machines and circuitry from being shrunk "drastically." He offered a $1,000 prize for the successful rewrite of a standard book page in text 25,000 times smaller. On this scale, the Encyclopedia Britannica would fit on the head of a pin.

It took 26 years before someone met Feynman's challenge... and received the check in 1985. The winner was Tom Newman, a Stanford grad student, who used electron beam lithography to engrave the first page of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in print so small that an electron microscope was required to read it.

Then, in 1990, IBM researchers set a new record by printing the letters "IBM" by arranging 35 individual xenon atoms.

Now, Stanford researchers have set a new record, printing text 40 times smaller than Newman's approach and 4 times smaller than IBM's approach.

Each letter in the letter sequence "SU" are formed using subatomic-sized bits, the new height being about 0.3 nanometers or 1/3 of a billionth of a meter. Their specific technique involved something called "a scanning tunneling microscope," which allowed them to move individual atoms around on a copper surface.

Within these atoms, the electrons moved around continuously and formed standing "interference patterns." By changing the position of the atoms, the researchers created different waveforms, which became the encoded information. A new technology, Electronic Quantum Holography, was then developed to both encode and read out this information.

A final interesting aspect is that multiple messages can be encoded using a single hologram, each created using a different electron wavelength. That is, they have created a way to encode messages at a subatomic level, using 35 bits per electron to encode a single letter.

Now, I know you might be asking..."Where's the Math?" It is hidden as part of the technology process....I just thought the entire project was of interest.

Source: ScienceDaily, January 31, 2009