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Coloured Dyes Could Help Increase Storage Capacity

Storage devices obviously need to be able to hold data, but they should also be of reasonable size, sturdy and able to hold large amounts of data. The storage demands of the modern world are so great that anything less is unacceptable.

Most modern storage devices use binary techniques to store data. That is, the system allows for a 1 and 0 to represent a different state. This is recorded by creating patterns that are read with light. By pushing the amounts of state available, it’s possible to have an even denser storage method.

Emily Pentzer led a team at the Case Western Reserve University to trial a chemistry-based method of data storage. Using two small dye molecules, they’ve been able to create a storage system that can have four different states, from 0 to 3. They said that this project came about by thinking about how a chemist would approach the topic of data storage.

They used two dyes: a cyano-substituted phenylenevinylene and a nitrobenzyl benzoate. The former glows under thermals, while the latter activates by light, and each shows a different colour. Both dyes fluoresce and that then produces a third colour. This is what produces the four different states.

1. The polymer film that holds the dyes is non-fluorescent,

2. written on with a thermal treatment

3. or a light treatment

4. or both

These then produce three separate colours which can be read with a UV light. Handily, the film can be dyed quickly and the material is very resistant. Using sand paper to remove half of the film or submerging it in boiling water doesn’t degrade the quality of the data. These sorts of standards may not be necessary for consumer use, but they are for enterprise.

“The combination of orthogonally-responsive dyes within a commodity polymer matrix makes this a particularly scalable and clever approach to data storage,” said Brent Sumerlin from the University of Florida. It’s likely that this work will inspire other researchers, especially those working in the chemistry field, to investigate what input they can have in the data storage field.

Of course, the work isn’t complete. The next step when it comes to coloured dyes is to downsize the individual data units. The research team are working with physicists to experiment using different wavelengths to try and figure out how small they can make it. The current approach of using thermally responsive dyes will eventually cause resolution problems, so they hope to look at smaller dyes and molecules.

Nevertheless, it’s an exciting new step into a storage world which continues to try and innovate and come up with the next bit technology that’s going to host all of data. If it turns out to be polymer films that hold coloured dyed molecules, so be it. The researchers have already proved this works, demonstrating intricate patterns that they’d created on sequence – with other researchers now coming on board, it’s something that is only going to keep getting developed.


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