New Nanomanufacturing Technique Could Create Crazy-Dense Storage


From the 10-inch floppy disk to Super Talent's ultra-tiny 16GB Pico USB key, storage makers are always looking for ways to shove more storage capacity into smaller mediums. A pair of professors -- Ting Xu at the University of California, Berkeley and Thomas Russell at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- have come up with a technique they say could stuff up to 10.5 terabits of data, which is the equivalent of 250 DVDs, into a disk no larger than a quarter. That's 15 times more dense than the densest data storage device that currently exists.

"If you can't keep up with Moore's Law, forget it," says Russell . "This is beating Moore's Law by a couple orders of magnitude."

To do that, the duo turned to self-assembly, which essentially tricks the disk's materials into organizing into an array of data-storing dots packed much more tightly than what current technologies allow for. More specifically, the professors' method is to cut either a sapphire or silicon crystal at an angle to expose a ragged section of the crystal's lattice structure. It is then heated for 24 hours at up to 2,700F, which forces the crystal surface to reorganize itself into a sawtooth pattern at 3nm intervals. The crystal's surface is then sprayed with a specially designed polymer dissolved in a hydrocarbon-based solvent. Once dried and treated with another solvent, the polymer arranges into a hexagonal pattern on the surface. Vaporizing nickel onto the surface and removing the screen leaves a grid of metal, hexagonal dots, each of which can hold a magnetic state representing a 1 or 0.

In addition to the expense involved, there's also the matter of creating a magnetic head capable of hovering over the dots, reading their signal, and then writing the data onto the grid. Such challenges means that we're likely decades away from seeing this technology become commonplace.

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