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New record set for ferroelectric data storage

By

August 26, 2010

A Scanning Nonlinear Dielectric Microscope Inset left: shows topography and electric dipol...

A Scanning Nonlinear Dielectric Microscope
Inset left: shows topography and electric dipole-moment
Inset right: Example of a ferroelectric information storage

For most of us, storing and accessing the vast majority of our computer data involves using either hard disk or solid state drives or perhaps a combination of both. Each method boasts its own advantages and while the battle for storage supremacy between the two rages in public, research at Japan's Tohoku University has revealed another option. Using a pulse generator to alter the electrical state of tiny dots on a ferroelectric medium, Kenkou Tanaka and Yasuo Cho have successfully recorded data at around eight times the density of currently available hard disk drives.

For primary computer data storage at the moment, there are really only two contenders fighting for public domination. Hard disk drives magnetically encode data onto spinning platters, which is subsequently read by detecting those magnetized areas and translating it back into something usable. Solid state drives work by electronically altering the state of flash memory cells and then transform all the positive and negative cells into something that the computer can understand. Although the adoption of solid state drives is slowly beginning to spread, most of our computer systems still currently use voluminous spinning disks to store the various pieces of our digital lives.

Another way

Meanwhile, researchers from the Research Institute of Electrical Communication Tohoku University have been looking at other storage methods and have recently disclosed their findings to the American Institute of Physics. Recording to a ferroelectric substrate, Kenkou Tanaka and Yasuo Cho have reportedly been successful in achieving a data density of 4 trillion bits per square inch, a world record for experimental ferroelectric data storage.

The scientists used a Scanning Nonlinear Dielectric Microscope as the storage and playback apparatus. Writing data involved sending relatively large voltage pulses through a pulse generator to a 30nm Lithium Tantalate medium. The tiny cantilever tip of the pulse generator successively alters the electric polarization and nonlinear dielectric constant of tiny spots on the ferroelectric medium, where positive voltage pulses represent a "1" data bit and negative pulses represent "0".

Tanaka and Cho also experimented with various pulse amplitudes and came up with a method for reducing the incidence of miswritten dots where close write proximity caused the polarized regions to expand to such an extent that individual bits were not distinct. Cho said: "We expect this ferroelectric data storage system to be a candidate to succeed magnetic hard disk drives or flash memory, at least in applications for which extremely high data density and small physical volume is required."

Research continues

However, improvements and fine tuning of such things as accuracy and speed will need to be made before such a storage system can be primed for commercial development.

In related news, it would appear that existing magnetic technologies are not going to be superseded without a fight as Toshiba recently unveiled a prototype magnetic storage technology capable of cramming 2.5Tb of data into a square inch.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
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