"A Boy and His Atom" is the anti-"Transformers." As massive as Hollywood can make our blockbusters, this film is all about how tiny we can make them as well. Though both films do feature characters who are more than meets the eye.
A team of IBM researchers has used a 2-ton microscope to create the world's smallest film, comprised entirely of atoms. "A Boy and His Atom" tells the tiny tale of a boy who finds an atom and takes it with him as they dance, play and bounce on a trampoline, before the atom floats off into the clouds.
Of course, more remarkable than the minute-long story itself is how it was created.
The IBM team created the film using 242 frames of stop-motion animation, each requiring the painstaking placement of individual atoms using a scanning tunneling microscope. "This is a very challenging task because no one as far as we know, including ourselves, has ever moved 5,000 atoms," said principal investigator Andreas Heinrich.
The images of the 5,000 atoms were magnified more than 100 million times their actual size. Or, if you prefer your information delivered in more mind-blowing terms, IBM's Christoper Lutz draws this Donald Sutherland-in-"Animal House"-type comparison: "If the atom was the size of an orange, than the orange would be the size of the whole planet Earth."
The atoms were moved by the atom-sized needle at the tip of the microscope, which attracts atoms when it hovers above the copper surface on which the film was shot. One by one. Thousand of times. Over 10, 18-hour days, according to PopSci.com.
And the massively cool project has an actual purpose, too: "We want to explore how can we use atoms on surfaces to do computations and data storage," said Heinrich. By shrinking the devices in which we store data, he says that we could be "carrying around not just two movies in your iPhone; you could carry around any movie that was ever produced."
The film is also a pretty good way to find the next generation of would-be researchers. "If I can do this by making a movie and I can get 1,000 kids to join science rather than go into law school, I’d be super happy."
A future full of even more fantastic innovations and ideas? Now that sounds like a story with a very happy ending.
Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN