Thursday, February 22, 2007

Too bad Apple's got that name locked up

I gravitated toward this paper's title, "Reversible, Erasable, and Rewritable Nanorecording on an H2 Rotaxane Thin Film".
the ref: JACS 2007 129, 2204-2205.
This paper's about a new material that makes a promising step toward atom-scale data storage devices. As computers store more and more large files (and I don't just mean home movies from your family trip to the world's largest ball of twine, I'm talking government use, scientific number crunching, and the like), the logical progression points to further miniaturized data drives.

Computers store data in bits and bytes, and the system boils everything down to a string of digits with only two possible values: zero or one. Because of this, the fundamental storage unit needs to be capable of switching reversibly between two different forms.

The authors of the paper pulled that feat off by making their new material from a molecule called a rotaxane, which is mechanically interlocked, like those metal toy puzzles that drive me crazy. Basically, the ring can move to each side of the dumbbell.

The "recording device", a scanning tunneling microscope, reminds me of a tiny turntable needle. This kind of microscope is a little different from the ones in every high school science classroom. It's used to measure properties at surfaces down to the nanometer (billionth of a meter) scale, and with an applied voltage, it can manipulate material down to individual atoms and molecules. Those school microscopes couldn't come close to being able to "see" something that small, and there's no voltage involved with them, either.

Put those two things together and the tiny tip can "move" the ring on the dumbbell molecule reversibly, which would translate to recording and erasing.

These researchers published a similar paper last year, but the new work tweaks the molecular structure of the dumbbell that makes erasing "data" easier. The next questions are ones of lifetime (how long-lasting is this material and how stable is the switch once it's put in position? etc.)


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