Molecular magnet breakthrough could lead to 1m GB hard drives

28 Feb 2017

Image: Piotr Zajda/Shutterstock

Physicists at Trinity have made a major breakthrough with molecular magnets that could bring us one step closer to quantum computers.

Many of us get frustrated when our mobile phone’s storage capacity is reached more often than we’d like, so the idea of a hard drive with 1m gigabytes is very appealing indeed.

That is the potential outcome of a new research project led by Prof Stefano Sanvito from Trinity College Dublin’s AMBER research centre, which has made a significant breakthrough in the field of molecular magnets.

As our devices become more powerful and space within the device becomes more limited, storage contained within a space as small as a molecule is seen as the end goal for physicists working in this field.

However, even after 30 years of research, it has proven difficult to make molecular magnets for use in room temperature, with existing ones only able to operate at temperatures lower than minus 200 degrees Celsius.

Alas, this is no more, as a team from AMBER has discovered that by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible, they can operate at room temperature.

‘A very exciting breakthrough’

In a paper published to Nature Communications, Sanvito and his team said that if molecular magnets were tightly packed within a standard 3.5in hard disk, it could be capable of storing up to 1m gigabytes, otherwise known as an exobyte.

Furthermore, other possible applications for molecular magnets operating at higher temperatures include quantum computers, which could be capable of calculations far more advanced than today’s binary computers.

Sanvito said: “This is a very exciting breakthrough and something that is of huge interest to the scientific community, who have demonstrated very slow progress to date with the development of molecular magnets that can operate at room temperature.”

In April of last year, a similar breakthrough was achieved by a team of researchers from ETH Zurich and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who were able to create a magnet the size of one atom.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic