How big is a bit?
Currently one bit of digital memory is 'made' of about 3 million atoms. But thanks to researchers in Germany and Japan, that could be able to get a whole lot smaller.
Their tests have shrunk one bit of memory to the site of a single molecule - which could lead to the equivalent of every word ever written in human history being stored on a laptop-sized hard disk.
Put simply, a hard drive that currently holds one terabyte could be expanded to more than 50 petabytes, with the same physical dimensions.
That's enough to hold the equivalent of a billion filing cabinets filled with text, or about 650 years of HD video.
It is also enough to store 33 copies of every photograph on Facebook.
Using an electric pulse, the researchers from Japan, Strasbourg and Karlsruhe had made it possible to switch a metal-organic molecule from a conductive to a low-conductive state.
Crucially that means it can 'store' one position or the other, and so build up with other bits to form computer memory.
Each of the molecules contains just 51 atoms.
The research, reported in the journal Nature, could lead to hard drives with orders of magnitude larger capacity.
Toshio Miyamachi, first author of the study and researcher at the Center for Functional Nanostructures (CFN) of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology said the new technique hinged on a "superparamagnetic effect".
"We placed a single magnetic iron atom in the center of an organic molecule consisting of 51 atoms. The organic shell protects the information stored in the central atom," he said.
The breakthrough "will open up a new field of research", he said.