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Molecular hard drive: Coin-sized storage for 25,000 gigabytes

Hans-Martin Durst Autor, Hemd & Hoodie

By cooling molecules down to -213 degrees Celsius, researchers have created a prototype for a molecular hard drive that will revolutionize data storage.

Cloud services and search engines are driving the rapidly increasing demand for storage space, a demand that has reached the limits of conventional data storage technology. However, researchers at the University of Manchester have successfully taken a crucial step towards the development of a molecular hard drive. This hard drive encodes vast amounts of data using individual molecules and is able to store 25,000 gigabytes in a space the size of a coin. The tiny data carrier can store around 5300 films, for example

To lay the foundation for the molecular hard drive, the researchers first had to give molecules the ability to hold a particular magnetic charge. This is because hard drives store data by polarizing magnetic particles to the north or the south, thus representing the zeros and ones used to form digital information. Unlike the particles in traditional storage media, however, the molecules do not retain their north/south polarity after the magnetic field has been removed. The researchers therefore had to cool down the molecules to -213 degrees Celsius to allow the molecules to achieve the required stability.

Cooling process makes molecular hard drives viable

This is a huge leap forwards compared with previous attempts that were only successful when the molecules were cooled down to -259 degrees Celsius. These temperatures would make the molecular hard drive non-viable, given that an expensive liquid helium cooling system is required to achieve such extremely low temperatures. A temperature of -196 degrees Celsius can be achieved using liquid nitrogen for the cooling process, however, which is a much more cost-effective alternative to helium. The researchers are confident of achieving this target in the next few years.

A molecular hard drive that has been cooled down using liquid nitrogen would be economically viable.
A molecular hard drive that has been cooled down using liquid nitrogen would be economically viable.

This would make molecular hard drives a solution for data centers to store the increasing volumes of data. Google alone operates around 37.5 million servers. According to a study, this could account for approximately two percent of worldwide CO2 emissions. As molecular technology is significantly more energy-efficient than current hard drives, this could in future not only solve the storage space problem, but also make data centers more environmentally friendly.

Cover photo: Flickr – Surreal Name Given (CC BY 2.0) – (Montage)

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