In a step towards miniaturisation in the best kind of way, scientists at the University of Alberta, Canada have made strides towards increasing our current capability for data storage at a scale previously unimaginable. As hardware design trends continue to move towards smaller and more energy-efficient devices, this step could pave the way for exciting new technology within the decade.
Increasing data storage one thousand fold
Under the guidance of his physics supervisor, Robert Wolko, PhD student Roshan Achal has unveiled the world’s densest solid state hard drive using techniques that allow for data to be stored at the atomic level. Storing data at such a miniaturised scale holds its own sets of challenges regarding stability and read/write speeds, but this hard drive has proven stable and currently stores over one thousand times more data than the world’s leading commercially available solid state drives.
The technology used can store up to 138 terabytes per square inch, an absolutely mind-boggling amount of data when compared to miniaturised storage solutions currently available; The average SDHC card used for portable data storage might cap out around 128 gigabytes of available data at the high end with roughly the same physical footprint. In short, this is a potentially massive leap forward.
Atomic-scale manufacturing as a whole is poised to push technology development forward into our next major stage of evolution in a way that has been likened to the printing press. Currently, the major hurdles of developing faster and more energy-efficient hardware are simply the physical limitations manufacturers must overcome with our current understanding of micro-scale hardware production balanced against the energy consumption of those components.
At the atomic scale, the components required to create devices scale down sharply, as does the energy cost to run these smaller devices.
Unless atomic-level production or similar developments are pushed through to mass acceptance, some predictions suggest the communication and information industries will consume as much as 20 percent of the world’s power by as early as 2025.
Wolkow and his fellow scientists are no stranger to new and exciting developments; Back in 2006, Moh’d Reqeq of the University of Alberta made the sharpest object ever produced by man in the form of a tungsten needle able to alter materials on an atomically precise scale. That needle is just one of many breakthroughs that allowed Wolkow’s department to work towards these storage breakthroughs and further potential developments could be just as exciting.
The biggest hurdle they’ve overcome? Temperature stability, as stated by Achal, who noted how many nanofabrication projects fail to take into account real-life applications when their technology reaches the hands of the end user. If Achal’s breakthrough proved to be unstable above room temperature, for instance, chances are it would fall apart as soon as it wound up inside a consumer device with much warmer working conditions.
The team at the University of Alberta are currently pushing towards improving the read/write speeds of their atomic-level storage, which suggests there’s still plenty of time before it reaches a level that allows for a full commercial roll out. In the meantime, here’s to hoping SSD prices reach even more affordable levels to encourage a greater stage of growth and scale of implementation.