A billion-year ultra-dense memory chip

The nanoscale electromechanical memory device can write/read data based on the position of an iron nanoparticle in a carbon nanotube. Photo credit: Courtesy of Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at BerkeleyWhen it comes to data storage, density and durability have always moved in opposite directions – the greater the density the shorter the durability. For example, information carved in stone is not dense but can last thousands of years, whereas today’s silicon memory chips can hold their information for only a few decades. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have smashed this tradition with a new memory storage medium that can pack thousands of times more data into one square inch of space than conventional chips and retain this data for more than a billion years!

"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. "Through this combination of nanomaterials and interactions, we’ve created a memory device that features both ultra-high density and ultra-long lifetimes, and that can be written to and read from using the conventional voltages already available in digital electronics."

Zettl, one of the world’s foremost researchers into nanoscale systems and devices, holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division (MSD) and the Physics Department at UC Berkeley, where he is the director of the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems. He is the principal author of a paper that has been published on-line by Nano Letters entitled: "Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory." Co-authoring the paper with Zettl were Gavi Begtrup, Will Gannett and Tom Yuzvinsky, all members of his research group, plus Vincent Crespi, a theorist at Penn State University.

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