Scientists are learning how to manipulate individual atoms--a brand of alchemy that, if fully realized, could dramatically reshape the economy. One early development: the atomic force microscope, invented at IBM (IBM) and Stanford, with a tip that tapers to the width of a few dozen atoms. When heated, it can burn up to 100 billion tiny pits into a square inch of plastic--yielding storage disks with 150 times the capacity of today's CD-ROMs.

But atom-level technologies have applications that go far beyond data storage. Scientists at Rice University, Harvard, and elsewhere have attached superstrong carbon nanotubes to microscope tips to probe and manipulate features on cells. Eventually, engineers may prompt nanotubes to assemble themselves into fantastically small electronic devices, far faster and smarter than today's chips.

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Updated Aug. 13, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.
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