Seventeen piconewtons: that's the force required to move a cobalt atom over a copper surface.
It takes 210 piconewtons to move a cobalt atom over a smooth platinum surface, according to a new research paper from IBM's Almaden Research Center and the University of Regensberg.
A piconewton is a trillionth of a newton. A newton is the amount of force required to accelerate a kilogram one meter per second squared. Lifting a penny weighing 3 grams takes about 30 billion piconewtons. The atoms in IBM's experiments are moved with atomic force microscopes. (Andreas Heinrich, lead scientist in the scanning tunneling microscopy lab at IBM Almaden and the lead author of the paper, recently let us move some atoms with a scanning tunneling/atomic force microscope in his lab.)
The breakthrough marks the first time anyone has been able to measure the force required to move individual atoms around, according to IBM, and helps the company move toward its goal of molecular computing.