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Circuit Breaker

Atomic memory could one day solve your storage problems

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"A kilobyte rewritable atomic memory", Nature Nanotechnology

Data storage is rapidly becoming a major pain point in the technology industry, especially as our apps and media start to reach higher and higher sizes. Some modern day iPhone applications measure in gigabytes now, while a single 4K movie can easily take up hundreds of gigabytes of space. But new research published in the Nature Nanotechnology scientific journal could solve all this.

Atomic memory can achieve information density of 502 terabits per square inch

Instead of using magnetic disks or integrated circuits, like today’s hard drives and solid state drives, the new technology, known as atomic memory, uses an arrangement of individual atoms to store data. Given the (obviously) smaller size of atoms relative to, well, everything, the information density that could be achieved off atomic memory is potentially huge. The research claims atomic memory can achieve information density of 502 terabits per square inch, compared to current day hard drives' 1.34 terabits per square inch, or a dual layer Blu-ray disk at 60 gigabits per square inch.

The experiment as it exists now can only encode a single kilobyte of data

The current version of the experiment uses 60,000 chlorine atoms on a copper bed, arranged and measured using a scanning tunneling microscope. There are a few major limitations to the current incarnation of this technology, though. The experiment as it exists now can only encode a single kilobyte of data, with the researchers storing a portion of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, a process taking around a week to accomplish. Overwriting that data with 160 words from a Feynman lecture look a comparatively short few hours, but it’s clear that this technology has a long way to go before being a viable method of data storage. Additionally, the current incarnation of the atomic memory process has to take place at near absolute zero temperatures. Currently, if the data is warmed to anything higher then -321 degrees Fahrenheit, the atoms resume regular movement and the data is lost.

That said, the current one-kilobyte result is a step forward in dramatically changing the way we think about data storage. For 16GB iPhone users in particular, these advances can’t come soon enough.