A Boy and His Atom: IBM’s Historic Atomic Animation, How It Works, Video

Written by Tom Ewing

A Boy and His Atom is the smallest movie ever. Created at IBM using two scanning tunneling microscopes, the 90-second wonder is explained and visible here. — IBM is moving atoms around in this historic animation. Called A Boy and His Atom, Guinness already has certified it as the tiniest animation ever.

The 90-second short feature comprises, as pixels, individual carbon atoms IBM pulled from carbon monoxide (CO) molecules. Researchers scoot the atoms around into an animation thanks to two scanning tunneling microscopes, IBM researchers say.

View A Boy and His Atom below and see IBM’s video explaining how it made the movie below that.

You might recall that in 1981 IBM researchers invented the Nobel-winning scanning tunneling tech it used here … more on that below the fold.

Video: IBM Research, Almaden Research Center

The enabling tech here is, of course, the dual scanning tunneling microscopes. IBM researchers in Zurich invented STM tech in 1981. IBMers Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the tech in 1985.

Find the Rohrer-Binnig patent here.

IBM employed sub miniature magnets for the 242 frame production, as IBM researchers explain in the video below. Here’s how they created A Boy and His Atom.

Video: IBM YouTube Channel

About the author

Tom Ewing

Based in San Francisco, Tom Ewing leads our legal coverage here at He also is a commercial lawyer specializing in intellectual property and the founder of IAM Magazine has named Tom one of the world’s top 250 IP strategists each year since 2009. Email him at He's +Tom Ewing on Google+