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Scientists unveil worlds’ smallest stop-motion film – each dot in the video is a single atom

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Video frame showing animated boy constructed from individual atoms

Scientists at IBM have unveiled the worlds smallest stop-motion film (certified by Guinness Book of World Records).  The video below is magnified 100 million times its actual size.  The one-minute movie, “A Boy and His Atom,” depicts a boy named Atom who goofs around with an actual atom during 242 single frames (each frame measuring 45 by 25 nanometers per frame) of stop-motion action filled with dancing, a game of catch and a trampoline romp.  Every one of those dots that you see in the video is the oxygen atom in one individual carbon monoxide molecule repeatedly rearranged to show a boy dancing, throwing a ball and bouncing on a trampoline.

The dots were rearranged for each frame with a two-ton scanning tunneling microscope, a tool that operates at minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 268 degrees Celsius) and magnifies the surface more than 100 million times.

“The cold makes life simpler for us.  The atoms hold still. They would move around on their own at room temperature.”

The scanning tunneling microscope tool was invented and built at IBM more than 30 years ago.  Scientists used the microscope to control a tiny, super-sharp needle along a copper surface, IBM said.  At a distance of just 1 nanometer, the needle physically attracted the carbon monoxide molecules and pulled them to a precisely specified location on the surface.  It took months of planning and a team of four IBM scientists to run the tool during 18 hour days for about 10 days straight to produce the images, which were then cleaned up and stitched together to make the film.

IBM scientist Andreas Heinrich explained the reasoning behind the introduction of the unique movie:

“This movie is a fun way to share the atomic-scale world.  The reason we made this was not to convey a scientific message directly, but to engage with students, to prompt them to ask questions.”

Watch A Boy and His Atom below.

A Boy and His Atom–courtesy IBM


Watch “The Making of A Boy and His Atom” below.

The Making of A Boy and His Atom–courtesy IBM


Sources: IBM, Mercury News