Could the future of storage be all wet?

Could the future of storage be all wet?

Using a piece of wire 100,000 times thinner than a hair and water, researchers at several leading universities are developing a new data storage medium that also has data transfer rates that are as fast as RAM.

According to the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and Harvard University, barium titanium oxide nanowires suspended in water could hold 12.8 million GB per square centimeter. If the memory density can be realized commercially, "a device the size of an iPod nano could hold enough MP3 music to play for 300,000 years without repeating a song or enough DVD quality video to play movies for 10,000 years without repetition," the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

The researchers are using water to stabilize and control ferroelectricity in the wires, thereby pushing and pulling on atoms in the wires -- which are about three-billionths of a meter wide -- and influencing how those atoms line up.

Jonathan Spanier, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Drexel, and a lead researcher on the project, cautioned that there is still an "enormous" amounts of research to be completed. But he said the technology is promising.

"Hopefully, this will give us a fresh perspective on how we might be able to store information. If there is a demand ... perhaps we can take small steps toward staggeringly larger storage density," Spanier said in an interview.

One limitation with today's tape and disk magnetic storage is that the basic component is a magnetic domain that is not stable at molecular levels. "The magnetization will spontaneously flip back and forth because of [temperature] fluctuations," Spanier said.

One of the barriers the research scientists have had some success in vaulting with ferroelectric storage is a depolarizing field that has been a source for instability in the vanishingly thin wires.

"Because we've been able to write to and read from a bit that is essentially within a three-nanometer diameter wire, this means that if one could pack wires together ... in rows, it implies an immense capacity for storage," Spanier said.

At this point, Spanier said that "it's certainly not worked out what the [storage] device would look like."

The Argonne National Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy's largest research centers, has conducted its own research on ferroelectric storage that resulted in findings similar to those by Spanier and his colleagues.

"We don't have a clear plan that I can discuss [for product], although we've been discussing [this] with some manufacturers. This is early-stage research. How it would look, would it be with nanowire, would it be with films? How would we be able to manipulate the molecules, [that] is not clear yet," Spanier said.

He said there are those who've been working on vertical arrays of nanowires for devices, "so it's probably not inconceivable that we might be able to come up with a scheme to address this in a volume capacity."

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