Researchers manage to store 1 bit of information on a single 52-atom molecule

11 Jul 2012

Image via CFN/KIT

Researchers from Germany, France and Japan have been successful in storing 1 bit of digital information on a single molecule made up of 51 atoms encasing a magnetised iron atom, thus creating a blueprint for denser compact storage media.

Researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, Chiba University in Japan, and SOLEIL synchrotron, Paris and Institut de Physique et Chimie des Matériaux (IPCMS), Strasbourg in France placed a single magnetic iron atom in the centre of an organic molecule made up of 51 atoms.

“The organic shell protects the information stored in the central atom,” explained Toshio Miyamachi, first author of the study and researcher at the Centre for Functional Nanostructures (CFN) at KIT.

The researchers then applied electricity to the molecule. “Using a scanning tunnelling microscope, we applied defined electricity pulses to the nanometer-sized molecule,” said Wulf Wulfhekel, head of the research group at KIT’s Physikalisches Institut. “This reproducibly changes not only the magnetic state of the iron, but also the electric properties of the molecule.”

Spin crossover molecules

This change in electrical resistance causes a memristive effect whereby information is stored in the form of resistance variations, while spintronics processes information based on the magnetic spin of individual particles.

These ‘spin crossover molecules’ could be advantageous for future memory storage, opening up a whole new field of research.

Currently, it takes about 3m magnetic atoms to store 1 bit of information on a hard disk, but this metal-organic molecule contains just 52 atoms in all, which means storage options could potentially become 50,000 times denser and the writing process would be purely electric and more reliable. Imagine: a 50-petabyte solid-state drive where you once had a 1TB magnetic drive.

However, it will be a while before the technology takes us this far as – so The Register points out – this would require access to each molecule, with one wire sending electric pulses and one reading the settings, meaning more space would be taken up by circuitry than by storage.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.