Nanotech to replace disk drives: researcher

Memory stacking on silicon also coming, professor says.

Nanotechnology will replace magnetic disk drives in iPods, laptops and servers within five to 10 years, making them more durable, lighter and faster.

That's according to Michael Kozicki, Director of the Centre for Applied Nanoinics and Professor of Electrical Engineering at Arizona State University, who is developing ways to store data in nanowires instead of as electrons in cells. He's also researching ways to stack multiple layers of memory on top of a single layer of silicon.

All of this, Kozicki says, will mean dramatic advances in storage, as well as dramatic differences in the way we use our favourite devices.

"Someday you'll store all your music, movies, photos and favourite TV shows on something the size of an iPod. It'll all be right there," says Kozicki. "Nanotechnology will replace all the disk drives in the world. Sure, we could create a terabyte thumb drive, but if you could do that, why would you use magnetic disks that are everywhere from iPods to servers to data farms? If you drop a device, it could wreck the fragile disc drive. Not with this, though."

If device manufacturers can get rid of disk drives, laptops and MP3 players would be significantly more durable, faster and lighter, according to Kozicki. They also would boot up immediately and have much better memory capacity.

"This isn't pie in the sky," he says. "I'm not talking about flying robots delivering breakfast in the morning. This is not that far away. This is exciting to anyone who uses an iPod or a laptop or a server."

Kozicki notes that he's not the only one looking to use nanotechnology in storage devices.

He says Micron Technology, Qimonda and Adesto Technologies have all licensed such technology from Axon Technologies Corporation, an Arizona State Unversity spin-off that commercialises its research. Kozicki also says Sony is experimenting with the technology but hasn't yet licensed it for official use.

"It's a tremendously exciting time," he says. "This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of companies working on this. Companies are turning to nanotechnology for the future of memory and storage."

The new technology could also be used to store multiple pieces of information in the same space that today holds only one piece of data, Kozicki says.

Traditionally, each cell holds one bit of information. However, instead of storing simply a 0 or a 1, that cell could hold a 00 or a 01. Kozicki says the ability to double capacity that way — without increasing the number of cells — has already been proven. Researchers are now working to see how many pieces of data can be held by a single cell.

And another piece of the nano-storage puzzle lies in layering memory, he says.

Today, only one layer of memory can sit on a silicon chip, he says. Using ionised metal that he creates through nanoionics, he's able to stack memory layers — two, four or maybe more — on top of each other, and place those layers on top of the silicon.

However, Kozicki says he's also working on changing the way we store data now. Traditionally, information has been stored as electrons in cells. He is working on using nanowires to hold the data, which uses less energy and takes up less space than the capacitors that store the electrons.

"There's some fascinating things here," he says. "And interest in this has been keen."

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