Scientists Built Flash Storage in a Single Molecule

By Adam Clark Estes on at

When a lot of us think about storage, we still think about that archaic method of encoding data by etching patterns into a disk. That's so 20th century. In the era of flash storage, researchers are now doing amazing things with chemical bonds. Things like storing data on a single molecule.

The pretty bonkers-sounding breakthrough in chemistry-based data storage hit the pages of Nature this week. An international team of researchers has managed to turn a single molecule into a flash storage device. The whole device is actually three molecules. Two of those hold the hold electrons that act as storage, and they live inside of the third, a nanometre-wide metal oxide molecular cage. For this particular experiment, the researchers used tungsten as the cage and selenium trioxide molecules holding extra electrons for the storage.

There's no beating around the bush: this new approach to flash storage is not coming to the iPhone any time soon. In fact, this first experiment really serves as proof of concept and would need vast improvements before it ever became practical. They were able to store data in the device for 336 hours but didn't test any longer durations, so it's unclear how stable the model is in the long term.

Otherwise setting the device and writing data took tenths of seconds and milliseconds. To compete with existing flash storage devices, this molecular monster would need to get much faster. Researchers say they can theoretically bring those speeds down to picoseconds or less.

All that said: storing data in molecules is a lot cooler than storing them on shiny plastic disks. In the past scientists have managed to store data on layers of graphene, but this new method is both smaller and simpler. Which is always a good direction to go in as far as computers and computing is concerned. [Ars Technica]

Image via Laia Vila Nadal, Felix Iglesias Escudero, Leroy Cronin, Cronin Group, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow