IBM Creates the World’s Tiniest Movie Using Atoms

By on May 6, 2013

Sure, we’ve all heard of short films, but how about a microscopic one? Using individual carbon monoxide molecules, the geniuses at IBM have made the first atom-ic movie and despite all the heady scientific implications… it’s adorable!

Though the team’s primary research uses atoms to explore more efficient forms of computation and data storage, the group channeled their inner Spielberg to help demonstrate their work to the masses. By moving isolated molecules frame by frame through a device called a scanning tunneling microscope, the scientists-turned-filmmakers captured atom images at one hundred million times their size. While carbon monoxide molecules were used to create the film, only the oxygen atoms are visible in the finished shots. The result?  A piece of stop motion animation like no other.

Comprised of 242 animated frames and running about a minute long, A Boy And His Atom chronicles the age old tale of boy meets atom, boy falls in love with atom, and boy jumps on atom like a trampoline. Like I said, a classic story. And while IBM might not be ready to give Pixar a true run for their money, the sheer technical feat here is mightily impressive and the animation rather charming. But please, don’t just take my word for it. Check out the full movie below!

How long do you think it will take before Disney co-opts the technology, re-brands the oxygen atom as “Molly the Molecule” and casts Selena Gomez as the voice? My guess: calls are already being made.

For more information about the the film’s incredible production, check out the “making of” featurette:

Of course, the IBM researchers didn’t stop there. No, sir. If you’d just pioneered the absolute geekiest way to create images, then there’s really only one place left to explore: The Final Frontier.

a 'Star Trek' logo made from atoms, courtesy of IBM

That’s right, the team also used the same technology to create several images for an upcoming mobile app set to coincide with the release of Star Trek Into Darkness —  proving that, as far as I’m concerned, the world’s top minds clearly have their priorities straight.

About Steven Cohen

In addition to writing for The CheckOut, I'm a Blu-ray reviewer for High-Def Digest, a short filmmaker, and a proud purveyor of rambling words. My experimental short film, Broken Records, premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival and is now viewable online.

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