New molecules could bring super-dense, solid-state hard disk alternatives

Researchers have discovered a better way to store data in individual molecules

By , IDG News Service |  

A recent breakthrough in storage research may someday produce a new type of solid-state device that can be used like a hard disk drive and holds 1,000 times as much data.

An international team of researchers led by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist has discovered a new way of making molecular memory, which stores data in individual molecules. That breakthrough could help the technology graduate from labs to data centers and drive down its manufacturing costs.

The key to the discovery is a new molecule developed by chemists at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Kolkata. It allowed researchers to build magnetic memory with fewer layers of material, making it thinner, less expensive, and more usable at normal temperatures. The reward for consumers and enterprises could be storage that holds 1,000TB per square inch.

Storage devices based on the new discovery probably won't go on sale within five years, though they may arrive within a decade, said MIT's Jagadeesh Moodera, who led the research. The findings, published on Wednesday on the online edition of the journal Nature, should spawn many more projects to develop more such chemicals and refine memory designs, he said.

"Now we know, to some extent, which direction to go," Moodera said.

Molecular memory stores data in special molecules, using the magnetic states of individual molecules to represent the ones and zeroes of binary data. This technique can store data in less space per bit than current hard disk drives use.

Previous experimental devices for molecular memory sandwiched the layer of molecules used for storage, called the insulator, between two magnetically charged layers called ferromagnetic electrodes. Changing the relative magnetic orientations of these electrodes changes the conductivity of molecules in the middle, and the two states of conductivity can represent ones and zeroes.

The IISER researchers developed a new kind of molecule and discovered its conductivity could be changed with just one ferromagnetic electrode. That meant the other layer could be an ordinary metal electrode.

The metal electrode is less expensive to make than a ferromagnetic one, but it also can detect the changes in state of the individual storage molecules. As a result, it could take the place of the sensors that are now used on the tips of hard-drive arms to read the bits on a disk, Moodera said. The resulting storage device would have no moving parts but would still have the long "write life" of a hard drive, he said. Write life, or the number of times new data can be written to a storage device, typically is much higher for hard disk drives than for today's flash storage. That's one factor that has held back solid-state storage in some enterprises.

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