News, Science

IBM Produces World’s Smallest Movie–Made Of Atoms

Still image from IBM's stop-motion film "A Boy And His Atom."
Still image from IBM’s stop-motion film “A Boy And His Atom.”

It’s about a boy and an atom.

And it may just be the world’s most impressive stop-motion film.

That’s because the film is made entirely of atoms.

Stop-motion animation is a way of making a movie using still pictures. An object—for instance, a doll—is put in front of a camera and a picture is taken of it. Then the doll’s arm is moved slightly, and another picture is taken. Gradually all of the pictures are put together so it looks like the doll is moving; in this case, moving its arm.

One company, a computer company called IBM, has made the world’s smallest—and arguably the most amazing—stop-motion video.

The video features a boy named Atom playing with a “ball” (really an atom) and bouncing on a trampoline. It’s a simple film, but its importance is enormous.The lab where IBM scientists created A Boy and his Atom

That’s because, rather than a doll, the filmmakers used atoms.

An atom is a microscopic piece of matter. Atoms can’t be seen with the naked eye, or even a normal microscope, because they are too small.

At IBM, scientists used two “scanning-tunneling microscopes.” The special microscopes (which IBM invented and won a Nobel Prize for) weigh two tons and magnify atoms to 100 million times their size so scientists can see them.

To move the atoms around for the movie, scientists used a special kind of “super-sharp needle” that pulls the atoms.

As they moved the atoms, they took 242 individual photos of what they had created. When all of the photos are put together, it looks like animation.

The Guinness Book of Records has verified that “A Boy and His Atom” is the smallest movie ever made.

Now that you know how incredible this achievement is, the best way to appreciate it is to watch the short film (1:34).

Here is a video that explains how the Atom movie was made (4:56).

Curriculum Connections
By Paul McGoey

Writing/Discussion Prompts
What does magnifying something 100 million times look like? In the IBM “making of” video they explain that if the atom was the size of an orange, at 100-million-times magnification, that “orange”  would become the size of the Earth.

What would you like to see magnified and why?  Pick the item and guess how big it would be if it was magnified 100 million times.

Reading Prompt: Demonstrating Understanding 
In the article, the journalist summarizes the video that IBM created.  A summary tells the important things about a story without mentioning every detail.

Think of a one-sentence summary for the following story (make sure to only include the most important information): 
A boy goes trick-or-treating and gets lots of candy.  He wants to eat it all the first night, but his mother only lets him eat one piece of candy each day.  One night, he sneaks downstairs and eats all of the candy.  The boy gets a terrible stomach ache and feels sick for two days.  From that day on, he promises to always listen to his mom when it comes to eating candy.

Demonstrate understanding of a variety of texts by summarizing important ideas and citing important details (OME, Reading, 1.4)

Demonstrate understanding of increasingly complex texts by summarizing important ideas and citing important details (OME, Reading, 1.4)

Grammar Feature: Italics
In the third sentence, the author chose to write the word atoms in italics (italics are what it’s called when the words are slanted).  Why do you think the author chose to do this?  What purpose does it serve?

Write a paragraph about your favourite movie and write at least one word in italics.  Afterwards, explain why you chose to put that word in italics.