University of Alberta scientists have created the most dense, solid-state memory in history that could soon exceed the capabilities of current hard drives by 1,000 times. The new technique leads to the densest solid-state memory ever created.

Roshan Achal, PhD student in Department of Physics and lead author on the new research said, “Essentially, you can take all 45 million songs on iTunes and store them on the surface of one quarter. Five years ago, this wasn’t even something we thought possible.”

The scientists used the same technology they developed to manufacture atomic-scale circuits, which allows for quickly removing or replacing single hydrogen atoms. The technology enables the memory to be rewritable, meaning it could lead to far more efficient types of solid-state drives for computers.

Previous discoveries of atomic-scale computer storage were stable only at extremely low temperatures, but the new memory works at real-world temperatures and can withstand normal use.

Achal noted, “What is often overlooked in the nanofabrication business is actual transportation to an end-user, which simply was not possible until now given temperature restrictions. Our memory is stable well above room temperature and precise down to the atom.”

Achal explained the technology has immediate applications for archiving data. The next steps will include increasing read and write speeds for even more flexible applications.

Achal works with U of A physics professor Robert Wolkow, a pioneer in the field of atomic-scale physics. Wolkow perfected the nanotip technology that allows scientists to manipulate single atoms on a silicon chip – a technology he said has now reached a tipping point.

Wolkow said, “With this last piece of the puzzle now in hand, atom-scale fabrication will become a commercial reality in the very near future.” His spinoff company, Quantum Silicon Inc., is working on commercializing atom-scale fabrication for use in all areas of the technology sector.

To demonstrate the new memory, Achal, Wolkow and their fellow scientists encoded the entire alphabet at a density of 138 terabytes per square inch, roughly equivalent to writing 350,000 letters across a grain of rice. For a playful twist, Achal also encoded music reminiscent of video game soundtracks from the ’80s and ’90s.

The research, “Lithography for Robust and Editable Atomic-Scale Silicon Devices and Memories,” appears in the current issue of Nature Communications.

After the power supplies converting AC current to DC and the processor the hard drive motors and servos are the energy hounds in computers. This technology is near certain to change the power demands and the expectations of computer uses. Those tablets and notebooks are going to get way better as soon as scaling up becomes practical and cost competitive.


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