Bits Stored on a Single Molecule Could Lead to Petabyte SSDs

If there's one fact of computing life, it's that there's never enough damn storage, and if you think it's bad now, just wait 'til you're downloading 4K movies. Still, research is at least keeping up, and now scientists can store bits of information on single molecules—which could pave the way for petabyte SSDs.

The project, undertaken at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, saw researchers embed a magnetized iron atom into an organic molecule made up of 51 atoms. The idea is that the organic shell protects the information stored in the central atom, while its magnetization allows data to be stored.

In fact, by applying current to the molecule, it's possible to flip the lone atom's magnetic charge, altering the resistance of the molecule. Subsequently measuring its resistance allows the researchers to read the state of the atom, and then change it again and again. That process means the molecule is capable of storing a bit of data. The result is published in Nature Communications.

Typical magnetic drives currently need 3 million atoms per bit so, in theory, a device made using these new molecule bits could pack in 50 thousand times as much data in the same size. That's the same as having a standard SSD capable of storing petabytes of data.

Except, umm, it's not quite that easy. You'd have to find some way of addressing each and every molecule in the drive, which is an insane idea. In reality, a device would include so much circuitry that—even using nanowires—it wouldn't offer quite the capacity boost that reasoning promises.

The concept, however, could well inspire similar techniques that could be used to shrink current SSD technology by orders of magnitude. So the petabyte SSD might not be quite as ridiculous as you first thought. [Nature Communications via The Register]