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Molecular data storage could hold every movie ever made on a Rubik’s Cube

Imagine being able to store upward of 200 terabits of data — the equivalent of every Hollywood movie ever — on a device measuring just one-inch square. That is not out of the realms of possibility, based on a new piece of research coming out of the University of Manchester. Scientists there recently demonstrated the ability to control the magnetism of a specific class of molecule to get them to store massive amounts of information. The bad news? To do so you need to keep your data chilled to minus-213 degrees Celsius — or 60 Kelvin.

“We have made a new molecule that holds magnetic information up to 60 K,” Dr. David Mills, a lecturer in the University of Manchester’s School of Chemistry, told Digital Trends. “This eclipses the previous record of 14 K set in 2011 and is now tantalizingly close to the temperature of liquid nitrogen, 77 K. Achieving magnetic information storage in single molecules at this temperature would make molecular data storage technologies economically viable, as liquid nitrogen is cheap and plentiful. We have studied this molecule in detail to understand why it is so much better at holding information than other molecules.”

There is a clear advantage in getting molecules to be able to store bits of binary information since this would make data storage devices much denser than they are at present. That is ideal for a world in which data is generated on an ever-increasing scale. It means that the Earth of, say, 2050 will not have to have as many Google data centers as it currently does McDonald’s.

Don’t get too excited yet, however, as a lot more engineering work needs to be carried out to turn this into a practical technology. It is unlikely that this particular molecule will ever be commercialized but the team is working to make even better magnetic molecules which could be used to carry out this task.

“Understanding in detail why this new molecule has such extraordinary magnetic properties is our current goal, as this will allow us to target new molecules with better performance,” Dr. Nick Chilton, also with the School of Chemistry, told us. “We think this has to do with molecular vibrations and are now trying to understand how these can be controlled.”

For now, you are better off sticking with these storage options. But you can still prepare for the storage world of the future by checking out the researchers’ paper, which was published in Nature.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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