Cooler things are happening in the world of data storage, cooler and more innovative than you could even think possible. Yes, they’ve been getting smaller, more compact, and generally more energy efficient (a.k.a., both the use of space and speed have stepped up). When I say ‘cooler than what you could even think possible’, I also mean smaller than you could even think possible. A team of physicists from the Netherlands have been working on atomic-level storage. Utilizing the smallest little building blocks in the natural world, a new storage device composed of chlorine atoms on a tiny metal surface could be the newest answer to large-scale data centers.
Data centers, all around the world, are these vast, dense areas full of so much storage, you’d consider them to be the power pockets that more or less run our world. However, just like an extra closet you shove stuff in you don’t want to deal with at the moment, many data centers are similar in that they contain tons of “crap” we don’t need, nor access. However, what these researchers have come up with is something the size of a square inch. A single square inch. Can you believe that? I couldn’t. That’s why I had to repeat it to myself.
At the size of a postage stamp, the atomic hard drive can handle 500 terabits of data, compared to the current 1.34 terabits per square inch. That, 500 terabits, is equivalent to the amount of storage required to fit every book ever written. It’s the equivalent of storing the entire contents of the US Library of Congress. The main man in charge, Sander Otte of Delft University at the Netherlands and his colleagues, have created something 500 times larger than anything you’ve ever seen in even the fanciest of hard disk drives. Specified in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology (a multidisciplinary journal that covers all things nanoscience and nanotechnology, as well as encourages the exchange of ideas between the highest acclaimed chemists, material scientists, engineers, and the like), the base pairs in a DNA molecule consist of tens of atoms, all of which are stored at much more dense associations than one bit per atom. The current version uses 60,000 chlorine atoms on a copper bed, which are arranged using a scanning tunneling microscope. Otte further explains that despite the fact that DNA is linear, their dimensions of storage are somehow able to work in two dimensions rather than one, which is quite the breakthrough.
The working prototype is the result of decades of scientific research reaching towards this goal of shrinking electronics down to the atomic level. Therefore, the fact that this is happening “in the now”, and not 10 years down the line, means we could expect to rid the use of hard drives or solid state drives made out of magnetic disks or integrated circuits. As Nature Nanotechnology also describes, the new system requires a bit of work before it’s seen more as a ready-to-go technology, than a proof-of-concept. It is, however, very much an important proof-of-principle, at a very important time in our technological revolution; and once researchers combat its limitations, and go through the necessary experiments to make this a viable method of data storage, our world will be utilizing a much desired higher-level of data capacity than ever. I can already envision these memory breakthroughs causing tremendous beams of undeniable joy, both in the eyes of our iPhones (and of course our own, as our devices will hold more memory than ever), as well as the poor polluted skies, as reduced energy consumption of America’s 3 million data centers will be another viable accomplishment.
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