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IBM Warps Atoms Into Crazy 'Star Trek' Art

'Star Trek' Logo made from single atoms
Engineers with IBM have made this 'Star Trek' logo using single carbon atoms positioned with a powerful microscope. (Image credit: Courtesy: IBM)

The nanophysicists working at IBM appear to be Trekkies.

In honor of the iconic science fictoin franchise's latest film "Star Trek: Into Darkness" — set for release on May 17 — IBM has unveiled amazing new photos crafted from the microscopic movements of single carbon atoms.

"Scientists used a microscope the size of a room to maneuver single atoms to form the shapes of the Enterprise, the Vulcan salute, the Star Trek logo, a U.S.S. Enterprise the height of a single nanometer, and an animation of the Star Trek logo," IBM officials said in a statement.

Scientists with IBM have crafted this Vulcan salute using single carbon atoms arranged with a powerful microscope. (Image credit: Courtesy: IBM)

Scientists used a scanning tunneling microscope — a 2-ton machine invented at IBM — to arrange and photograph the atoms. Engineers carefully dragged a sharp needle along a copper surface to attract the atoms and move them into place.

The "Star Trek" photos aren't the only pieces of "atom art" created by IBM this year. The technology company also produced the Guinness World Record-certified smallest stop-motion movie using these same methods.

That video, "A Boy and His Atom," shows a group of carbon atoms arranged in the shape of a boy dancing and jumping on a trampoline with a single atom beside him.

These artistic endeavors are part of a wider IBM data storage initiative. Single atoms are the smallest raw materials that can be used to store data. Investigating how to use atoms on various surfaces can help scientists understand how they can be used to store information in more efficient ways, according to IBM officials.

"Today, it takes roughly one million atoms to store a single bit of data on a computer or electronic device," IBM officials wrote on the company's website. "A bit is the basic unit of information in computing that can have only one of two values, one or zero. Eight bits form a byte. Recently, IBM Research announced it can now store that same bit of information in just 12 atoms."

Nanophysicists working with IBM have created a Starship Enterprise using single atoms arranged with a powerful microscope. (Image credit: Courtesy: IBM)

A chip the size of a fingernail using the 12-atom bit could store all of the movies ever made, IBM officials said in a statement.

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is scheduled for nationwide release in the United States on May 17.

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Miriam Kramer
Miriam Kramer joined Space.com as a staff writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also serves as Space.com's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. You can follow Miriam on Twitter and Google+.