Researchers Store Data Using Individual Chlorine Atoms

Posted on July 19, 2016

Portion of Nanoscale STM image

Scientists at Delft University have developed the densest storage method ever created. The new method can store one kilobyte of data on an area 100 nm x 100 nm in size or 500 Terabits per square inch. The data is stored on individual chlorine atoms on a thin copper surface.

The research by a team of scientists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University was led by Sander Otte. Otte says, "In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp."

Pictured above is an image of a STM scan (96 nm wide, 126 nm tall) of the 1 kB memory, written to a section of Feynman's lecture "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" (with text markup). BBC News says the entire contents of the US Library of Congress could be stored in a 0.1mm-wide cube using the storage technique.

The researchers from Delft organized their memory in blocks of 8 bytes (64 bits). Each block has a marker that is made of the same type of 'holes' as the raster of chlorine atoms. The markers were inspired by pixelated square QR codes. The markers work like miniature QR codes. They carry information about the precise location of the block on the copper layer. The code also indicates if a block is damaged. This allows the memory to be scaled to much larger sizes even if the copper surface is not entirely perfect. The image below explains the bit logic and the atomic markers.

Otte says, "You could compare it to a sliding puzzle. Every bit consists of two positions on a surface of copper atoms, and one chlorine atom that we can slide back and forth between these two positions. If the chlorine atom is in the top position, there is a hole beneath it -- we call this a 1. If the hole is in the top position and the chlorine atom is therefore on the bottom, then the bit is a 0."

Atomic storage bit logic and the atomic markers


The research was reported here in the journal, Nature Nanotechnology. The atomic scale data storage technology is explained in the following video. Take a look:



Image: Delft University