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John O | August 2017

Researchers make step forward in storing data at molecular level


Scientists at the University of Manchester (U.K.) have demonstrated that storing data at the molecular level through single-molecule magnets is more feasible than previously believed, according to a report from the university.

 


University of Manchester researchers have discovered that storing data at the molecular
level is closer than previously thought. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The researchers demonstrated that magnetic hysteresis, which is a memory effect that is a prerequisite for data storage, occurs in individual molecules at -213°C, which is close to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (-196°C).

 

“The result means that data storage with single molecules could become a reality because the data servers could be cooled using relatively cheap liquid nitrogen at -196°C instead of far more expensive liquid helium (-269 °C),” the article explained. “The research provides proof-of-concept that such technologies could be achievable in the near future.”

 

According to the article, this type of molecular storage could store more than 200 terabits of date per square inch, which means 25,000 GB of data in the size of a coin. By comparison, the latest Apple iPhone 7 stores 256 GB.

 

“Single-molecule magnets display a magnetic memory effect that is a requirement of any data storage and molecules containing lanthanide atoms have exhibited this phenomenon at the highest temperatures to date,” the article added. “Lanthanides are rare earth metals used in all forms of everyday electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. The team achieved their results using the lanthanide element dysprosium.”

 

This research could lead to smaller hard drives that require less energy and could lead to far more efficient data centers, which is a major concern as data demands continue to rise exponentially and as a result the number of servers and data centers is growing at the same rate.

 

“Some reports say the energy consumed at such centers could account for as much as two percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions,” the article continued. “This means any improvement in data storage and energy efficiency could also have huge benefits for the environment as well as vastly increasing the amount of information that can be stored.”

 

The research was recently published in Nature. The abstract read:

 

“Lanthanides have been investigated extensively for potential applications in quantum information processing and high-density data storage at the molecular and atomic scale. Experimental achievements include reading and manipulating single nuclear spins, exploiting atomic clock transitions for robust qubits and, most recently, magnetic data storage in single atoms.

 

“Single-molecule magnets exhibit magnetic hysteresis of molecular origin6—a magnetic memory effect and a prerequisite of data storage—and so far lanthanide examples have exhibited this phenomenon at the highest temperatures. However, in the nearly 25 years since the discovery of single-molecule magnets, hysteresis temperatures have increased from 4 K to only about 14 K using a consistent magnetic field sweep rate of about 20 oersted per second, although higher temperatures have been achieved by using very fast sweep rates (for example, 30 K with 200 oersted per second).

 

“Here we report a hexa-tert-butyldysprosocenium complex—[Dy(Cpttt)2][B(C6F5)4], with Cpttt = {C5H2tBu3-1,2,4} and tBu = C(CH3)3—which exhibits magnetic hysteresis at temperatures of up to 60 kelvin at a sweep rate of 22 oersted per second. We observe a clear change in the relaxation dynamics at this temperature, which persists in magnetically diluted samples, suggesting that the origin of the hysteresis is the localized metal–ligand vibrational modes that are unique to dysprosocenium.

 

“Ab initio calculations of spin dynamics demonstrate that magnetic relaxation at high temperatures is due to local molecular vibrations.

 

“These results indicate that, with judicious molecular design, magnetic data storage in single molecules at temperatures above liquid nitrogen should be possible.”

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