IBM used a remotely operated two-ton scanning tunneling microscope at its lab in San Jose, Calif., to make the movie earlier this year. The microscope magnifies the surface over 100 million times. It operates at 450 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (268 degrees below zero Celsius).
The cold "makes life simpler for us," Heinrich said. "The atoms hold still. They would move around on their own at room temperature."
Scientists used the microscope to control a tiny, super-sharp needle along a copper surface, IBM said. At a distance of just 1 nanometer, the needle physically attracted the carbon monoxide molecules and pulled them to a precisely specified location on the surface.
The dots that make up the figures in the movie are the oxygen atoms in the molecule, Heinrich said.
The scientists took 242 still images that make up the movie's 242 frames.
Heinrich said the techniques used to make the movie are similar to what IBM is doing to make data storage smaller.
"As data creation and consumption continue to get bigger, data storage needs to get smaller, all the way down to the atomic level," he said.