Every day, modern society creates more than a billion gigabytes of new data.
To store all this data, it is increasingly important that each single bit occupies as little space as possible. A team of scientists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University managed to bring this reduction to the ultimate limit: they built a memory of 1 kilobyte (8,000 bits), where each bit is represented by the position of one single chlorine atom. “In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp”, says lead-scientist Sander Otte. They reached a storage density of 500 Terabits per square inch (Tbpsi), 500 times better than the best commercial hard disk currently available. His team reports on this memory in Nature Nanotechnology on Monday July 18.
In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman challenged his colleagues to engineer the world at the smallest possible scale. In his famous lecture There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, he speculated that if we had a platform allowing us to arrange individual atoms in an exact orderly pattern, it would be possible to store one piece of information per atom. To honor the visionary Feynman, Otte and his team now coded a section of Feynman’s lecture on an area 100 nanometers wide.
The team used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), in which a sharp needle probes the atoms of a surface, one by one. With these probes scientists cannot only see the atoms but they can also use them to push the atoms around. “You could compare it to a sliding puzzle”, Otte explains. “Every bit consists of two positions on a surface of copper atoms, and one chlorine atom that we can slide back and forth between these two positions. If the chlorine atom is in the top position, there is a hole beneath it — we call this a 1. If the hole is in the top position and the chlorine atom is therefore on the bottom, then the bit is a 0.” Because the chlorine atoms are surrounded by other chlorine atoms, except near the holes, they keep each other in place. That is why this method with holes is much more stable than methods with loose atoms and more suitable for data storage.
Experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider generate 15 million gigabytes of data per year. That is a lot of digital data to inscribe on hard drives or beam up to the “cloud.”
Digital data storage degrades and can become obsolete and old-school books and paper require lots of space. Compared to digital and analog information storage, DNA is more compact and durable and never becomes obsolete. Readable DNA was extracted from the 600,000-year-old remains of a horse found in the Yukon.
Bachand was inspired by the recording of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets into 2.5 million base pairs of DNA — about half the genome of the tiny E. coli bacterium. Using this method, the group at the European Bioinformatics Institute could theoretically store 2.2 petabytes of information — 200 times the printed material in the Library of Congress — in one gram of DNA.
Newly discovered particles behave as powerful magnets that, one day, could change data storage.
Researchers have created extremely small, thermally stable magnetic particles. These CoFe2C nanoparticles have magnetic properties comparable to some rare earth magnets, the strongest permanent magnets ever created, at sizes as small as 5 nanometers, a million times smaller than an ant.
The next generation of thermally stable data storage devices demands materials that are highly magnetic in a specific direction at small particle sizes. The new CoFe2C nanoparticles accomplish this goal and can lead to nano-magnets that work at room temperature.
Van Vleck’s Nobel-prize winning explanation of the quantum origin of magnetism dates back to 1937.
EPFL scientists have built a single-atom magnet that is the most stable to-date. The breakthrough paves the way for the scalable production of miniature magnetic storage devices.
Magnetic storage devices such as computer hard drives or memory cards are widespread today. But as computer technology grows smaller, there is a need to also miniaturize data storage. This is epitomized by an effort to build magnets the size of a single atom. However, a magnet that small is very hard to keep “magnetized”, which means that it would be unable to retain information for a meaningful amount time.
In a breakthrough study published in Science, researchers led by EPFL have now built a single-atom magnet that, although working at around 40 Kelvin (-233.15 oC), is the smallest and most stable to date.
A step forward for the future of data storage
A KTH researcher is part of an international team that has unlocked the secret to creating stable dynamic skyrmions – the nanoscale magnetic whirls that promise to meet our insatiable appetite for data storage.