Nanocrystals light up the path to next-gen data storage

Wednesday, 04 July, 2018

Nanocrystals light up the path to next-gen data storage

Nanosized crystals of salt encoded with data using light from a laser could be the next data storage technology of choice, following research by scientists at the Universities of South Australia, Adelaide and New South Wales.

As noted by project leader Dr Nick Riesen, a Research Fellow at UniSA, “With the use of data in society increasing dramatically due to the likes of social media, cloud computing and increased smartphone adoption, existing data storage technologies such as hard drive disks and solid state storage are fast approaching their limits.

“We have entered an age where new technologies are required to meet the demands of hundreds of terabyte (1000 gigabytes) or even petabyte (one million gigabytes) storage. One of the most promising techniques of achieving this is optical data storage.”

Dr Riesen and University of Adelaide PhD student Xuanzhao Pan developed technology based on nanocrystals with light-emitting properties that can be efficiently switched on and off in patterns that represent digital information. The researchers used lasers to alter the electronic states, and therefore the fluorescence properties, of the crystals.

Published in the journal Optics Express, their research shows that these fluorescent nanocrystals could represent a promising alternative to traditional magnetic (hard drive disk) and solid state (solid state drive) data storage or Blu-ray discs. They demonstrated rewritable data storage in crystals that are hundreds of times smaller than that visible with the human eye.

“What makes this technique for storing information using light interesting is that several bits can be stored at simultaneously,” said Dr Riesen. “And, unlike most other optical data storage techniques, the data is rewritable.”

This ‘multilevel data storage’ — storing several bits on a single crystal — opens the way for much higher storage densities. The technology also allows for very low-power lasers to be used, increasing its energy efficiency and being more practical for consumer applications.

“The low energy requirement also makes this system ideal for optical data storage on integrated electronic circuits,” said Professor Hans Riesen from UNSW. The technology also has the potential to push forward the boundaries of how much digital data can be stored through the development of 3D data storage.

“We think it’s possible to extend this data storage platform to 3D technologies in which the nanocrystals would be embedded into a glass or polymer, making use of the glass-processing capabilities we have at IPAS,” said Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem, referring to the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing at the University of Adelaide.

Dr Riesen added, “3D optical data storage could potentially allow for up to petabyte-level data storage in small data cubes. To put that in perspective, it is believed that the human brain can store about 2.5 petabytes.”

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