Crystals In Gel For Computer Memory

Crystals in gel are being touted as computer memory storage devices by scientists at University of Edinburgh. Dr. Andy Alexander and his team have developed the technique, which could lead to memory storage at densities one hundred times greater than today's technology.

(Crystal nucleation using a supersaturated solution of KCl, formed in an agarose gel)

The development could allow users to store a terabyte of data in a space the size of a sugar cube within a decade.

This would be enough to hold the equivalent of 250,000 photographs or a million books. The researchers overcame this difficulty by focusing two overlapping low-energy laser beams on a salt solution, providing exactly the right amount of energy to form a temporary crystal. Dr Andy Alexander, of the university's school of chemistry, who developed the technique, said it could be used to improve on traditional methods of optical data storage, such as CDs.

Compared with the flat two-dimensional surface of a CD, three-dimensional optical data storage uses many more layers, in which tiny crystals could act as storage points. Information would be recorded in a similar way as on CDs - by making marks in a pattern, which are read using light.

Such devices, which could be available within 10 years, would enable users to store, access and move around massive amounts of information easily.

Science fiction writers have been thinking about storing vast amounts of data in crystals for a long time. For example, in his 1961 book Return from the Stars, Stanislaw Lem wrote about crystal corn data storage crystals:

I spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century...

The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents...

From BBC; thanks to Fortigurn for the story and reference suggestions. Read more about the basic technique at Chemical and Engineering News and Alexander Group website.

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