Until now, that is. In the molecular science equivalent of a celebrity marketing campaign, the atom was selected to star in the world’s smallest stop-motion film, “A Boy and His Atom.”
Made by scooting around individual atoms for each frame, researchers at IBM have proven that science has a fun side after all.
"We think that that's exciting and that will drive normal people's interest in (asking) what is this? What are atoms? Why are we here? What happened? All of these questions that we want people to ask," Andreas Heinrich, a principal investigator at IBM Research in California who led the effort, told NBC News.
The animated short, shown below, depicts a boy named Atom who frolics with an atom during 242 single frames of stop-motion action.
Reminiscent of early video games in look, the high technology involved is impressive. The dots — each an individual atom — were rearranged for each frame with a scanning tunneling microscope, a tool that operates at minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit and magnifies the surface more than 100 million times. The tool was invented and built at IBM more than three decades ago.
When not directing films, Heinrich employs the tool to explore new applications in data storage and computation. Among other pursuits, he and his team are studying the behavior of atoms in hopes of building a quantum computer. Such high-tech research could potentially result in thumb drives that can store every movie ever made and computers that can decipher the world's most secure codes.
Creative honchos at IBM, however, thought that a more exciting application might garner increased interest; hence, “A Boy and His Atom” was born.
And if you need help wrapping your head around just how wild this feat was to pull off, consider this: As stated in the “making of” film below, if the atom was the size of an orange, the orange would be the size of the planet Earth.