A Boy and His Atom

A picture slide from the World's Smallest Movie. Image: IBM

Made of Atoms

IBM researchers currently hold the Guinness World Record for the ‘World Smallest Stop-Motion Film’ after creating a short film about a boy and his ball, by manipulating single atoms.

Watch the World’s Smallest Animation Movie on YouTube.

Atom Size

An atom has a size of order between 10-12 m and 10-9 m (1 femtometre to 1 nanometre).

To create this short film, researchers had to manipulate individually over 5000 single atoms using carbon nanotube actuators or ‘nanotweezers’ (Kim & Lieber, 1999).

Four pictures showing nanotweezers in action.
The motion of nanotube arms in a pair of nanotweezers, as a function of the applied voltage.

242 frames were recorded to create this stop-motion animation film.


A “small” feat of engineering physics, it was carried out using a scanning tunnelling microscope – a high-tech piece of instrumentation that lets you see atoms at around 100 million times their actual size.

However, this impressive experiment in atomic matter manipulation was not designed to impress the Hollywood sphere…


Data Storage Transistors

The video illustrates how far physical research has come into the study of atoms, and in particular how scientists can now use atoms to create minute transistors which can be used in data storage.

At present, data storage transistors require around 1, 000, 000 atoms to function.  IBM researchers can do exactly the same job but with just 12 atoms.

Nevertheless, if the research findings can be turned into tangible technological innovations, USB flash drives with the capacity to hold all the movies we own, as well as all the movies ever made in the history of worldwide film-making, could well become the future of digital information storage!

At present, this is the World’s Smallest Movie, and you can also watch Moving Atoms: Making The World’s Smallest Movie by IBM.


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