A radical innovation that could reduce data density by 50%

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A radical innovation that could reduce data density by 50%

The traditional approaches to data storage reduction aren’t creating the necessary density savings that will be required in the future, some scientists say. We’re creating a lot of ones and zeros these days, and we will be generating many more.

To handle that, researchers say data should be completely re-written. It should use a four-symbol code, rather than classic two-symbol binary. That, coupled with chemical solutions for carrying the media, along with light, will greatly shrink data storage density, researchers say.

Chemists at Case Western Reserve University say the current approach, which is to make existing storage, like drives, more compact—pushing the data closer together by reducing space, for example—isn’t the way to go.

Their radical solution is to use polymer films containing colored dyes to optically store data. What’s more, binary ones and zeroes—the classic method we use for writing data—should be junked, and we must move over to a space-saving quaternary, or four-symbol code.

“Beyond binary,” they call it.

“The four symbols are the absence of color and three colors—fluorescent green, ultramarine and cyan,” Case Western Reserve University says in its news release. They’re “produced when dyes contained in a common polymer are exposed to heat, ultraviolet light or both.”

The chemists say data density, overall, could be reduced in half by using these two innovations. “We’re using chemistry instead of engineering to address data storage,” says Emily Pentzer on the university’s website.

How the system reduces data density

The way the chemists’ system works, roughly, is that a tiny percentage of two dye molecules are loaded onto a colorless, transparent film sheet. One dye turns green when heated, and one morphs into ultramarine when it’s exposed to UV light. The dyes fluoresce as cyan when they overlap and have been affected by both the heat and UV. Code is embedded by overlaying miniscule templates onto the film and then applying the heat and UV.

The scientists say the code is durable, but it needs more shrinking, which they intend to do with lasers. They equate that to the way Blu-ray discs are more data dense than CDs. And they say they will be able to do the same kind of thing, thus reducing data density overall.

Additionally, if they can get a third dye to work right, they think they will be able to reduce the density even further with a seven-symbol code.

Reducing data storage space is likely to be crucial as we accumulate more of it, and indeed there’s a race to do it. Folks overall are expecting ever better solutions to problems, and marketers are demanding more intelligence on their customers, for just two examples.

Last year, I wrote about the possibility of data centers fitting into a laptop form factor eventually. In that Dutch scientific work, the researchers are using chlorine atoms and say they can reach 500 terabits per square inch—all the books ever written could be stored on a postage stamp, they claim.

DNA is another area being explored for data storage. Advantages include large quantities of data in a small space, as well as longevity. Many are concerned that magnetic storage, like what we use in hard drives, won’t last forever—maybe not even as long as paper.

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