University of Alberta discovery fits 138TB onto postage stamp
Hard drive manufacturers have been using helium to help boost hard drive storage capacity for several years. Now a team of Canadian researchers has made a major storage breakthrough thanks to another element.
Scientists at the University of Alberta have successfully used hydrogen atoms to store data. The atoms were applied to a silicon chip roughly half the size of a fingernail. To write zeroes and ones, the team cut and pasted individual atoms with the help of a scanning tunneling microscope.
Working with hydrogen atoms allows for a ton of data to be stored in a very small amount of space. “Essentially, you can take all 45 million songs on iTunes and store them on the surface of one quarter,” doctoral student Roshan Achal said.
The team pinned storage density at 128TB per square inch. For comparison’s sake, one of today’s 10TB hard drives sits somewhere in the neighborhood of 512GB per square inch. Just think about the kind of capacity you could pack into a 3.5-inch bay. Well, if you didn’t need something the size of an STM to do the reading and writing, anyway.
It’s one of the problems the team will need to sort out before this becomes a practical way to store data. Another teensy little issue: read and write speeds. To record just a small amount of data — the iconic first 24 notes of the Super Mario Brothers theme — took between 10 and 15 minutes.
That doesn’t make what the U of A team accomplished any less impressive. They managed to do this all under real-world conditions. Physics professor Robert Wolkow notes that the hydrogen-based memory remained stable “well above room temperature.”
What led Wolkow and his team down this road in the first place? A project that they worked on for Canada’s 150th birthday last year. They printed a maple leaf 10,000 smaller than the width of a human hair for Canada Day.