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There is great power in storytelling. On the most basic level, telling a story is entertainment. But it can do so much more. Stories can teach, enlighten, illustrate, and make difficult-to-understand concepts relatable. From parables to fairy tales, storytelling is a way for us all to get on the same page. With A Boy and His Atom, IBM tells a simple story that’s related to much more complex work.

Telling Stories, One Atom at a Time

The ability to move single atoms, the tiny building blocks of ordinary matter, is crucial to IBM’s research in the field of atomic-scale memory. In 2012, IBM scientists announced the creation of the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit, made up of just 12 atoms. This breakthrough was predicted to transform computing by providing the world with devices that have access to unprecedented levels of data storage. Pretty heady stuff. The physicists at IBM decided to have some fun and make their work more relatable by creating the world’s smallest stop-motion film.

IBM is Speaking to the Next Generation of Scientists

This film was posted at the end of April 2013 and has since racked up 9.2 million views. Using a combination of stop-motion animation and nano-physics, IBM entertains viewers while generating interest in their work. The film is engaging and avoids overwhelming the audience with complex science.

IBM smartly supported their short film with a link to how it was made. In this five-minute piece, the scientists involved explain the practicality of their work. The same science used to move atoms could result in the ability to carry around a lot of information in a small space. The non-scientists among us are drawn in by comparisons: we’re told that if each atom used in the film were the size of an orange, the orange would be the size of planet Earth. One of the leads talks about making science appealing to kids by making it accessible. This is the power of storytelling through video.

IBM Used Animation to Engage and Explain

A Boy and His Atom is a great example of making difficult-to-understand or niche work relatable. Animation is especially good at this. It’s an engaging format that’s also great at illustrating (pun intended) concepts. Finding common ground or a common language with your audience is important for communication. With Adam and his atom, the viewer is entertained but also gets closer to understanding the parallel between how the film was created and IBM’s research in the field of atomic-scale memory. You may not watch something called “Research in the Field of Atomic-Scale Memory” but a film about a playful boy has the ability to attract a wider audience.

Do you understand nano-physics? Neither do we. But IBM has made work on an atomic level relatable. Adam and his atom remind us of Schoolhouse Rock!, a series of animated educational films that used to run during Saturday morning cartoons. Although I’m Just a Bill is dated (no diversity and no mention of women), this cartoon does an excellent job of explaining how a bill works in the US judicial system. We bet more than a few parents learned a thing or two along with their kids. Using a catchy song, personable characters and simplified concepts make this complex process easier to understand.

Tell Your Story

When you work in a specialized industry, it can be hard to communicate work to an outsider. Storytelling through video can be the conduit between you and your audience. IBM started with a question: How small can you make a magnet and still use it for data storage? By using their technology to move individual carbon monoxide molecules and manipulate individual atoms, they told the story of their work in a way that’s understandable for the rest of us. If you have a story to tell, we can help you communicate with your target market. Call us today for a free quote.

This blog was originally posted in 2013 and has been updated for accuracy.

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