Quantum Leaps in Digital Storage

January 24th, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Science & Tech | Comments Off

Within the last 24-hours two rather amazing announcements have been made about proof of concept breakthroughs in the future of digital data storage. First, MIT announced a successful experiment with molecular storage using a “supramolecule” consisting of graphene (a substance we are going to be hearing more and more about in new materials) attached to zinc atoms. The resulting structure is made of molecules one nanometer in size, and capable of storing a terabyte of data per square inch, a 1000-times leap above today’s performance.

Graphene fragments attached to zinc atoms. Graphic by Christine Daniloff, MIT

At the same time, researchers at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute announced success in using DNA to store digital data. In their approach, artificially created DNA has been programed to store data ranging from an mp3 of the Martin Luther King “Dream” speech, to jpeg photos, to a pdf of the Watson and Crick original paper on DNA, and then these kind of data have been successfully decoded from the DNA. The DNA with this material encoded looks like a bit of dust, say the researchers. Since, as the researchers point out, DNA is known to last in good form for thousands of years, this approach may provide a remarkably stable form of data storage, requiring no power, and only requiring a machine that can read DNA to decode, a technology that is likely to exist so long as humans do. DNA can also store huge amounts of data – a cup of DNA could store 100 million hours of high definition video.

The amount of data in the world in increasing rapidly, and people want and need ready access. Plus, the challenge of storing digital information for a long time is one that has not been solved yet and needs an urgent solution. Perhaps in these experiments we see pathways to the future of data storage.

Both developments were published the in Journal Nature; the links here are to primary announcement sources.