Nanotube chip could store data for a billion years

Ultra-dense memory should work with today's silicon processing

Researchers have demonstrated a form of archive memory using carbon nanotubes that can theoretically store a trillion bits of data per square inch for a billion years.

The technology could easily be incorporated into today's silicon processing systems and it could be available in the next two years, a lead researcher said.

The scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California said the new technology can potentially pack thousands of times more data into one square inch of space than today's chips.

"We've developed a new mechanism for digital memory storage that consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle shuttle enclosed within the hollow of a multiwalled carbon nanotube," said physicist Alex Zettl, who led this research.

Zettl, who was lead author of the paper published online by Nano Letters entitled " Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory," is perhaps best known for his work on creating the world's smallest radioin 2007, which is one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair.

Zettl said this latest nanotube breakthrough uses an iron nanoparticle, approximately 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, that in the presence of a low voltage electrical current can be shuttled back and forth inside a hollow carbon nanotube with remarkable precision.

The shuttle's position inside the tube can be read out directly via a simple measurement of electrical resistance, allowing the shuttle to function as a nonvolatile memory element with potentially hundreds of binary memory states.

"The shuttle memory has application for archival data storage with information density as high as one trillion bits per square inch and thermodynamic stability in excess of one billion years," Zettl said in a statement. "Furthermore, as the system is naturally hermetically sealed, it provides its own protection against environmental contamination."

Zettl said the low-voltage electrical write/read capabilities of the memory element in the electromechanical device allows for large-scale integration and should make for easy incorporation into today's silicon processing systems.

Zettl believes the technology could be on the market within the next two years.

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