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Atom-level memory in 20 years

Scientists from University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and the University of Basel in Switzerland have developed memory capable of storing data by detecting the presence or absence of a single silicon atom.

According to Franz Himpsel, group leader and project principal investigator, a bit is encoded by absence or presence of a single atom.

Physicists covered the silicon crystal with a thin layer of gold to form tracks five atoms wide. The writing can be performed by removing atoms with a scanning tunnelling microscope and and reading — by scanning along the tracks. The device features 250Tbit/sq.in storage density. Developers used the experiment to find hard numbers to describe the data storage density limits. However, in order to compensate atoms removed at writing, the crystal will need to be covered with gold again. This does resemble IBM Millipede technology, but it had lower storage density of 1Tbit/sq.in.

Another problem is the read/write speed. Professor Himpsel says that as the density of stored data increases, the readout will have to slow down. The scientists will have to find an optimum combination of density and speed, and, according to Himpsel, this might happen within a decade or two.

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