Electronics

Shifting stacks of 2D metals could make fast, dense new data storage

Shifting stacks of 2D metals c...
Researchers have encoded data into stacks of two-dimensional materials
Researchers have encoded data into stacks of two-dimensional materials
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Researchers have encoded data into stacks of two-dimensional materials
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Researchers have encoded data into stacks of two-dimensional materials

A new type of data storage system could be denser, smaller, faster and more energy efficient than silicon chips. The new method involves encoding data in sliding stacks of two-dimensional layers of metals.

With the world producing more data than ever, and current storage systems approaching the limits of size and storage density, new technologies are sorely needed. Researchers are investigating how to store data on laser-etched glass slides, icy molecules, single hydrogen atoms, holographic film, and even DNA.

For the new study, researchers at Stanford, UC Berkeley and Texas A&M experimented with a different method. The new system consists of a metal called tungsten ditelluride, arranged in a stack of ultra-thin layers that are each just three atoms thick.

The idea is that when a tiny zap of electricity is applied, every second layer shifts a tiny amount compared to the other layers above and below it. It stays in this arrangement until another zap realigns them. In this way, data can be encoded in the usual ones and zeroes format based on whether a layer is offset or not.

To read the data back, a magnetic field can be used to manipulate the electrons in the layers, determining their positions without moving them.

The team says that the new method has a few advantages over existing silicon-based data storage systems. It could cram more data into a smaller physical space, and the jolts of electricity required to shift layers are tiny, meaning it’s very energy efficient. Plus, the sliding happens so quickly that data could be written up to 100 times faster than existing tech.

The team has patented the design, and is currently investigating ways to improve on it, such as looking for other 2D materials besides tungsten ditelluride that may be compatible with the technique.

“The scientific bottom line here is that very slight adjustments to these ultrathin layers have a large influence on its functional properties,” says Aaron Lindenberg, lead author of the study. “We can use that knowledge to engineer new and energy-efficient devices towards a sustainable and smart future.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Physics.

Source: Stanford University

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