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The World's Smallest Movie Stars Just A Few Atoms

Produced by IBM scientists, this microscopic movie is the tiniest story ever captured on film.

The world’s smallest stop-motion film has a simple plot: the whole one minute and 34 second clip is about a boy playing with an atom. It’s an apropos theme—the film (see above), entitled, The World’s Smallest Movie: A Boy and His Atom, is made on an impossibly tiny scale, with thousands of atoms arranged precisely under a microscope to tell the story.

Dr. Andreas Heinrich, a researcher at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, spends his days exploring the world on an atomic scale with an eye towards future applications in things like data storage. You may have heard his name before—last year, Heinrich and his team figured out that they could store information on 12 magnetic atoms, which is about 1/83,000th the scale of disk drives today, according to CNET.

Heinrich believed that he and his team were successful in reaching out to the science and technology community, but they wanted a way to get the general public—including kids—interested in the world of atoms. So they decided to create A Boy and His Atom.

The stop motion film was created using a scanning tunneling microscope, a device invented in the 1980s by an IBM researcher in Switzerland that lets scientists see and move atoms. The movie took 10 18-hour days to make with four people rotating responsibilities. "You look at the surface, see where the atoms are, take a picture of them, overlay an image of where we want them to be, and move them," explains Heinrich.

A Boy and His Atom holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest stop-motion movie, but Heinrich says it’s also the worlds smallest film that doesn’t tell a science story (like a film of a single atom moving from point a to point b, which has been done before). "It’s the best you can do on an atomic scale," says Heinrich. It also happens to be a fun little movie.