Researchers create new dense, billion-year memory

From HPCwire late last week, news of a new type of memory created by researchers at LBL and UC Berkeley

When it comes to data storage, density and durability have always moved in opposite directions — the greater the density the shorter the durability. For example, information carved in stone is not dense but can last thousands of years, whereas today’s silicon memory chips can hold their information for only a few decades. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have smashed this tradition with a new memory storage medium that 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!

“We’ve developed a new mechanism for digital memory storage that consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle shuttle enclosed within the hollow of a multiwalled carbon nanotube,” said physicist Alex Zettl who led this research. “Through this combination of nanomaterials 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.”

Ah yes, the old crystalline iron nanoparticle shuttle enclosed in a multiwalled carbon nanotube trick. For those that have a passing interest in the how the world works, a note on how the memory works

Zettl and his collaborators were able to buck data storage history by creating a programmable memory system that is based on a moveable part — 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 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 nonvolatile memory element with potentially hundreds of binary memory states.

According to the release, the memory meets all the desirable requirements, including the ability to overwrite previously written data. Cool stuff. Much more in the release, including links to the academic papers.

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