New tech lets you store a trillion bits of data for a billion years

Researchers have demonstrated a form of archive memory, using carbon nanotubes, that can theoretically store a trillion bits of data per square inch for a billion years.

The technology could easily be incorporated into today’s silicon processing systems and it could be available in the next two years, a lead researcher said.

The scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California said the new technology can potentially pack thousands of times more data into one square inch of space than today’s chips.

The new technology, the researchers say, reverses the traditional conflict between durability and density.

Typically, they note, data storage, density and durability have always moved in opposite directions – the greater the density the shorter the durability.

For instance, as an article in the Berkeley Lab’s online “News Center” points out, information carved in stone is not dense but can last thousands of years, while today’s silicon memory chips can hold their information for only a few decades.

For instance, it cites the stone carvings in the Egyptian temple of Karnak, which store approximately two bits of data per square inch but can still be read after nearly 4,000 years.

“[Contrast that] to a modern DVD which can store 100 giga (billion) bits of data per square inch but will probably remain readable for no more than 30 years.”

As small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) save more data and rely on it more, they are turning to networked storage even under the burden of limited budgets and IT expertise.

Alex Zettl, the Berkeley Lab physicist who led the research cites yet another example.

The Domesday Book, the great survey of England commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1086 and written on vellum, has survived over 900 years, he notes.

He contrasts that with the 1986 BBC Domesday Project, a multimedia survey marking the 900th anniversary of the original Book. It required migration from the original high-density laserdiscs within two decades because of media failure.

Zettl is one of the world’s foremost researchers into nanoscale systems and devices

The beauty of the nanotube chip is it offers extreme durability, along with density.

The new memory storage medium can pack thousands of times more data into one square inch of space than conventional chips and preserve this data for more than a billion years.”

Zettl said the new mechanism for digital memory storage “consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle shuttle enclosed within the hollow of a multi-walled carbon nanotube.”

Zettl, who was lead author of the paper published online by Nano Letters entitled “Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory,” is perhaps best known for his work on creating the world’s smallest radio in 2007, which is one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair.

He said this latest nanotube breakthrough uses an iron nanoparticle, approximately 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, that in the presence of a low voltage electrical current can be shuttled back and forth inside a hollow carbon nanotube with remarkable precision.

The multi-walled carbon nanotube and enclosed iron nanoparticle shuttle were synthesized in a single step via pyrolysis of ferrocene in argon gas at a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius.

The nanotube memory elements were then ultrasonically dispersed in isopropanol and deposited on a substrate.

“Through this combination of nano-materials and interactions, we’ve created a memory device that features both ultra-high density and ultra-long lifetimes, and that can be written to and read from using the conventional voltages already available in digital electronics.”

The shuttle’s position inside the tube can be read out directly via a simple measurement of electrical resistance, allowing the shuttle to function as a non-volatile memory element with potentially hundreds of binary memory states.

An iron nanoparticle shuttle moving through a carbon nanotube in the presence of a low-voltage electrical.

“The shuttle memory has application for archival data storage with information density as high as one trillion bits per square inch and thermodynamic stability in excess of one billion years,” Zettl said in a statement.

“Furthermore, as the system is naturally hermetically sealed, it provides its own protection against environmental contamination.”

Zetl said the low-voltage electrical write/read capabilities of the memory element in the electromechanical device allows for large-scale integration and should make for easy incorporation into today’s silicon processing systems.

He believes the technology could be on the market within the next two years.

Source: CIO

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