Harvard researchers use dyes to store data
In the digital age, every byte of data has to go somewhere and preferably stay there for a long time. This last part is a major problem when it comes to data storage systems, which typically last less than 20 years. A group of Harvard chemists are trying to solve the problem with an innovation that looks like tiny drops of ink.
In a new paper in ACS Central Science, researchers at the George Whitesides lab describe a new storage approach that uses mixtures of seven commercially available fluorescent dyes to save data files. The dyes are deposited by an inkjet printer and read with a microscope that can detect the different wavelengths of light emitted by each dye. Researchers then decode the binary message in the molecules into documents, books, photos, videos, or anything else that can be stored digitally.
Theoretically, data can be saved for a very long time, thousands of years or more. The long life of molecular data storage options is greater than that of current media devices for data storage, such as flash drives, Blu-ray discs, magnetic memory tapes, and computer drives, which can store information for up to 40 years, have size limits, and are susceptible to water damage and hacking. Another disadvantage of traditional storage methods is that they consume energy. Even the cloud has a storage limit, requires huge and expensive physical servers, and is, of course, susceptible to breach.
“This method could provide access to archival data storage at low cost,” said Amit A. Nagarkar, co-lead author of the article, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow in the Whitesides lab. “[It] Provides access to long-term data storage using existing commercial technologies: inkjet printing and fluorescence microscopy.
The dye method could be particularly useful with information whose storage is regulated (financial and legal records, for example) and in cases where long-term storage is crucial, such as with satellite data. Dyes live outside the hackable Internet, are relatively inexpensive to produce, and cannot be read without a special microscope. The technique does not use any energy once the data is recorded.
The dye molecules are deposited on an epoxy surface to which they chemically bond, locking the information in place. To translate the bits of information in the different dyes, the researchers used the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. Each number, letter, and pixel in the data they wish to store is represented by a group of ones and zeros, depending on whether a particular dye is absent or present. The fluorescence microscope they use detects the presence or absence of the dye molecules. Knowing which dyes are present, they can decode the binary message. The researchers report that the information can be read with an accuracy of 99.6%, and in an area of 7.2 by 7.2 millimeters, they were able to write 1,407,542 bytes of digital information with the dyes.
Harvard licensed the technology to a new digital data storage company co-founded by Nagarkar, Whitesides, University Professor Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers, and former postdocs Michael Fink and Alexei Ten, to develop the methods into a commercial product. Still in its infancy, the company is pursuing partnership opportunities with data storage providers.
The recent article builds on previous work from the Whitesides lab in which researchers used peptides to store digital information.
For years, scientists have explored the use of different molecules and even synthetic DNA to store information including GIFs, text, and music, but have been thwarted by factors such as cost and costs. slow read and write speeds of these technologies. The dyeing method offers a tempting alternative due to its speed and cost. The system writes information at an average speed of 128 bits per second and reads it at a speed of 469. It is believed to be the fastest read speed of all molecular information storage methods.
For demonstration purposes, the researchers kept a seminal article by Michael Faraday, as well as a JPEG image of the 19th-century English physicist and chemist. They chose Faraday because of his foundational work on electromagnetism and chemistry, which paved the way for the utility of electricity as a practical technology and ultimately led to the modern information age, said Samuel Root, postdoctoral researcher at the Whitesides lab and co-author of the current paper.
Researchers believe that data storage methods such as dye innovation will become increasingly important in the 21st century. “In the future, we will need to store large amounts of data as our company transitions to a digital society,” Nagarkar said.
– This press release was originally posted on the Harvard University website