Historically, diamonds have been valued for their aesthetic qualities and as objects denoting social class. Recently, however, these dense carbon rocks became subject to many different lines of research, ranging from industrial testing to theoretical speculation on their capacity to be used in building quantum computers.
Now, a new study indicates that diamonds could also be used to store massive amounts of data in their atom-size indentations – much the same way that microscopic pits in CDs and DVDs help encode bits of information for later use. “We are the first group to demonstrate the possibility of using diamond as a platform for super-dense memory storage,” said study lead author Siddharth Dhomkar, a physicist at the City College of New York.
The new system utilizes tiny defects that can be found even in the most visually flawless (and therefore more expensive) of these gems. The imperfections are known as nitrogen vacancy centres (or NVs), one of the numerous point defects in diamonds. These miniscule holes often have nitrogen atoms sitting near the vacancy and attracting electrons in their place.
Dhomkar and his team used these nitrogen vacancies as a substitute for the binary ones and zeros. If the vacancy has an electron in place, it’s a one; if it’s empty, it’s a zero. Alternating green and red laser pulses, which attract or repel an electron, respectively, the researchers have been able to write binary code and store two images – portraits of Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger.
In principle, each bit of data could be stored in a spot on the diamond only a few nanometres wide, potentially giving rise to exponentially denser and much more reliable and long-lasting computer memories – if kept in the dark, there would likely be close to zero data degradation. The problem is that researchers aren’t yet capable of writing or reading information using such small features.
The study, recently released in Science Advances, details how the team had achieved bit sizes comparable to state-of-the-art DVDs, resulting in storage capacity that exceeds current high-capacity DVDs about 100 times. In the future, a diamond the size of a grain of rice could hold about a million times more data than current DVDs – mostly due to the possibility of storing information in three dimensions and utilizing the spin state of electrons in the NVs.
“This proof of principle work shows that our technique is competitive with existing data storage technology in some respects, and even surpasses modern technology in terms of re-writability,” said one of the authors Jacob Henshaw in a press release. “You can charge and discharge these defects a practically unlimited number of times without altering the quality of the material.”
While commercial applications of the new technique is still a ways off, advances such as this one are absolutely essential if we are to handle the ever-increasing amounts of data humanity produces every day.
Sources: smithsonianmag.com, hackaday.com, phys.org, livescience.com.