A group of IBM scientists claim they have achieved a technological breakthrough that could result in disk drives holding 100 times more data than today's offerings.
The researchers said they have combined nanotechnology with chemistry to make a new class of magnetic materials that may enable computers' hard disks and other data storage systems to store more than one trillion bytes of data.
An IBM spokesperson said: "The process represents a new approach to magnetic recording, with three dimensional structures building themselves on a molecular scale from a chemical solution."
But he said that it was impossible to predict timeframes for turning the science into products. "There are technical hurdles to overcome and the new method may also require returning to the spin-on-film method of disk coating that sputtering replaced a decade ago," he said.
He added that the new material had potential, "but what actually happens cannot yet be predicted". However, nanoparticle research showed there was still a lot of life left in magnetic storage, he said.
As part of the IBM experiment, scientists put molecules containing iron and platinum into a heated solution. The molecules reacted with each other to form particles that were coated in a particular substance and after they dried, they were spread out into even rows.
The reactions that took place enabled the scientists to control precisely the size of each "nanoparticle" and the distance between them.
Nanoparticles are about half the average size of the grains that IBM used to store 35.3 billion bits of data per square inch in 1999. But the company expects its new technology to store one data bit on one grain of magnetic material instead of the 1,000 grains that are needed today.
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