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Scientists measure heat produced by erasing a single bit of information

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Physicists claim that they have measured the heat dissipation produced by erasing a bit of data.

burning hard drive (SHUTTERSTOCK)
burning hard drive (SHUTTERSTOCK)

In 1961 physicist Rolf Landauer claimed that resetting a single bit of information, like setting a binary digit to zero in computer memory regardless of its initial state, must release a certain amount of heat. Half a century later, reseachers claim that they have proven Landauer's principle, according to Nature: they created a simple two-state bit with a single microscopic silica bead that's held in a "light trap" by a laser beam, and monitored the speed and position of the particle as it jumped between two areas where it could rest (these areas represent a binary 1 and 0). By monitoring the movements of the particle, the researchers could calculate how much energy was expended. Besides bringing some weight to an infinitesimal concept like a single bit of data, the experiment may impact efforts to make computer chips smaller. Scientist Eric Lutz says that "heat dissipation in computer chips is one of the major problems hindering their miniaturization," and that "engineers will soon have to face" the limits that Landauer theorized.