Self-Assembling Polymer Increases Hard Drive Capacity Fivefold

November 22, 2012

Technology

block-copolymer-dots

Close-up of a metal surface coated with block copolymers. Credit: Sravani Gullapalli, Jason M Grider, Hitesh G Bagaria, Kyu-Sung Lee, Minjung Cho, Vicki L Colvin, Ghassan E Jabbour and Michael S Wong

Synthetic chemists have designed self-assembling polymers, which require heat in order to rearrange themselves. This technology has the potential of increasing hard drive storage capacity fivefold.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Nanotechnology. Currently, information is stored by printing the 1s and 0s of binary data as magnetic dots onto a metal surface. The amount of information that can be stored is relative to the spacing of the dots. The closer the dots are positioned, the more data can be stored. The dots have become so close together with current technology that reducing the spacing in between them would cause instability due to neighboring dots’ magnetic fields. However, if there was a way to protect the dots from neighboring magnetic fields, they could be moved even closer together, creating more storage space.

copolymer-top-coat

Surface with top coat and surface without. Credit: Sravani Gullapalli, Jason M Grider, Hitesh G Bagaria, Kyu-Sung Lee, Minjung Cho, Vicki L Colvin, Ghassan E Jabbour and Michael S Wong

A team of chemists and engineers at the University of Texas have teamed up to apply a block copolymer, a grouping of polymers made out of more than one bondable molecule, onto a metal surface. If delicately coated with heat, the block copolymers are able to reorganize themselves into a regular patter and will follow a pattern if the surface contains a guide. Magnetic dots on hard drives provide an example of such a guide, and the copolymers provide just enough shielding from magnetic fields, allowing the dots to be moved closer together without worrying about data corruption.

Until now, this self-assembly process was only able to double storage space. The process was refined by the researchers to allow a fivefold increase of storage. A special top coat that was created helps the polymer form using a proper orientation and is activated by a bit of heat.

Since the consumer market is orientated towards SSDs, this could provide a different outlook for HDDs, which could store up to 20TB of data using current techniques. HDDs could be used for long term storage, while SSDs would be used for data that is used a lot.

[via Extreme Tech]

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