Researchers working in the Netherlands have developed an atomic-scale rewritable data-storage device capable of packing 500 terabits onto a single square inch. Incredibly, that’s enough to store every book written by humans on a surface the size of a postage stamp. Holy shit.
This atomic hard drive, developed by Sander Otte and his colleagues at Delft University, features a storage density that’s 500 times larger than state-of-the-art hard disk drives. At 500 terabits per square inch, it has the potential to store the entire contents of the US Library of Congress in a 0.1-mm wide cube. The new system, described in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology, still requires considerable work before it’s ready for prime time, but it’s an important proof-of-principle that lays the groundwork for the development of useable atomic-scale data storage devices.
This isn’t the first time scientists have positioned individual atoms at will. Researchers have been moving atoms using scanning tunneling microscopes since the early 1990s, but current methods are tedious and show, requiring tremendous patience and persistence. The new system, while still a bit slow, is a huge improvement in user friendliness.
To make it work, Otte and team placed chlorine atoms on a copper surface, resulting in a perfect square grid. Importantly, a hole appears on this grid whenever an atom is missing. As we all know, this type of on/off type configuration lends itself well to binary switching—the foundation of digital data storage. Using the sharp needle of a scanning tunneling microscope, the researchers were able to probe the atoms one by one, and even drag individual atoms towards a hole.
“The combination of chlorine atoms and supporting copper crystal surface that we found now, combined with the fact that we manipulate ‘holes’—just as in a sliding puzzle—makes for a much more reliable, reproducible and scalable manipulation technique that can easily be automated,” explained Otte to Gizmodo. “It is as if we have invented the atomic scale printing press.”
Read more here: gizmodo.com/record-setting-hard-drive-writes-information-one-atom-a-1783740015