Professor Heinrich won an award for developing the smallest memory storage unit in the world. He succeeded in reading and writing one bit of information with a single holmium (Ho) atom. Currently, commercial memory requires about 100,000 atoms to store one bit. In user terms, this technology would enable users to store half a million movies on a single coin-sized USB memory chip once commercialized.
The discovery itself is still basic research at the nanoscale. A holmium atom placed on a magnesium oxide (MgO) surface has one spin state, in either the up or down direction. A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) can read the spin’s state by measuring the current flowing through the atom. If you apply a strong voltage to the atom with an STM tip, the atom’s spin changes. In this way, the scientists were able to store digital bit signals, '0' and '1', in a single atom. The results were published in a joint paper
with IBM Research in Nature on March 9, 2017.
Heinrich said, "It is a great pleasure and honor to be able to contribute to the great basic science research in Korea. I especially want to thank the Minister of Science and ICT for recognizing our work with this prestigious award and I look forward to achieving more cutting-edge breakthroughs as part of the Korean scientific community."