A terabyte of data per tablespoon of liquid?

 A terabyte per tablespoon?

 A team of material research scientists from the US have made a massive breakthrough that could revolutionise how we store data within machines.

Labelled “Soft-Matter” this is a liquid data storage medium that can hold up to and beyond a terabyte of information!      

Before we continue let’s take a brief look at the history of data storage in the video below!

There are two current conventional ways of storing data:

Firstly using electromagnetism, here an electromagnet is used to magnetise a spinning disk it creating a1 or a 0 (this is why faster RPM disks can R/W faster). This again uses the disk as a medium to record on which limits it to the surface of the disk.

A great video which explains this process is:

Another way is using transistors to store the data, which use electrical signals to change the state of transistors to allow them to be read as either 1’s or 0’s. This again uses the transistors themselves as a medium to store the data.

These may be great ways to store data for now, but the growing demand for data storage is never ending and new ways need to be found.

So what the team have done is quite incredible they have used a liquid as a medium to hold microscopic particles. This type of data utilises the volume of the medium taking data storage to a three dimensional playing field, as the density of the volume can change so can the amount of data that can be stored!

You can literally fill your hard-drive up with liquid for more storage!


The term “Soft-Matter” can refer to liquids, foams, polymers, and some biomaterials. So what links all of these materials together is how they react to heat, and their behaviours can be predicted as a result of the modulating temperature. At the molecule level they can change their structures and take on a different assembly, it’s this feature that the team can take advantage off.


The team behind the liquid hard drive, led by Sharon Glotzer and David Pine, used a type of colloidal suspension of specially designed dimpled nanoparticles. Being a colloidal suspension means the particles are not permanently dissolved in the solution and retain their expected properties (i.e. soft matter).


So when they heat the medium up here the particles begin to react in predictable ways and begin to reorient themselves to shapes. The nanoparticles used here where pre-arranged into groups of 4 or more with a central nanoparticle holding the others together.

By adding this thermal energy to the nanoparticles it caused them to shift around on the surface of the central particle reacting to the heat creating the predicated configurations. The nanoparticles as a whole only span around 5 micrometres across but the team was able to use special machines to see their configurations and confirmed that they had moved into the configurations that they desired.

So how do we go from changing the formation of nanoparticle’s to data storage?

Well this is because one of the simple four-particle cluster that showed only two configurations when the heat was applied. These two shapes made are asymmetric so no matter what angle to you look at them they will show the same shape, but they are totally different to one another in formation.

The team has dubbed the liquid a digital colloid.

This is just the first step however as there needs to be more work investigating how to lock the clusters into the right shape across large volumes of nanoparticles, then they have to read and write the data here. None the less this is a big step in nanotechnology.

The only things that relate to this scale is when IBM managed to store a bit in just 12 atoms but this just too small for any conventional device to read and write to without a tunneling microscope.


Atoms arranged to make the word IBM

The liquid team here believes that in the future the data density using this technique can could become very high, which is where they got their “1TB per table spoon” slogan from.

A link to the report: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/sm/c4sm00796d#!divAbstract

It’s very safe to say that data storage will stay in the solid category for now!

Have a great Tech2day


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