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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 11:22 GMT
Molecular memory bank draws closer
The Atomium in Brussels, BBC
The spin of an atom can hold information
One day you could be storing data inside molecules.

A group of scientists have found a way to manipulate the atoms in a molecule to store more than 1,000 bits of information.

The researchers managed to briefly store a small image in the molecule before extracting it with the same method they used to put it there.

Despite the success, the scientists say it will be a long time before their work results in working molecular memories.

Obstacles

The team used a single liquid crystal molecule as their data storage medium.

They stored 1,024 bits of information by manipulating the spin states of the protons in the molecule's 19 hydrogen atoms.

The manipulation was done with a pulse of radio waves made up of 1,024 different frequencies.

Some of the frequencies had an amplitude to represent a binary "1", and some did not, representing a binary "0".

The information stored on the molecule represented an image 32 pixels square. By comparison, the image at the top of this story is 300 by 180 pixels in size.

The image was retrieved using a second electromagnetic blast that had a range of slightly different frequencies.

The image was decoded by reading the change in spin states with a detector known as a nuclear magnetic resonator.

The research was carried out by Bing Fung, Anatoly Khitrin and Vladimir Ermakov from the chemistry and biochemistry department at the University of Oklahoma, US.

But Dr Fung warned that there were enormous hurdles to overcome before the data storage system was useful.

Although the team has managed to store more information in a molecule than anyone else, currently data can be kept in the molecule for only one-tenth of a second.

Dr Fung told New Scientist that there could be further complications in the way that the spin states of the hydrogen atoms interact.

The trio have published their work in the Journal of Chemical Physics.

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Technology
18 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
27 Mar 02 | Health
05 Sep 02 | Business
01 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
09 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
12 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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