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Discovering How to Store More on Optical

Optical storage media isn’t as popular as it once was, thanks to the rise of digital downloads and cloud storage. It’s less common to buy music on CD or receive files from a colleague on disc, for example. Part of this is due to the physical nature of the storage itself, but it’s also down to the limitations on how much can be stored on the disc. Is there any way to change that?

Research was recently published in the journal Nanoscale detailing an electro-optical phenomenon that could lead the way to significantly increasing the amount of storage that optical media can hold. The research was carried out by a group led by Professor Sergei Kazarian from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London.

The core restriction of dense storage on optical media is because of the limitations of focussing a light spot. Storing a higher amount of data using the light isn’t possible using this method due to the restrictions imposed by the diffraction limit. This means the physical inability to focus a beam on the surface of objects whose size is less than the wavelength of the light.

As such, the density of optical storage media is poorer than what is possible in magnetic or electronic data systems. As such, the researchers had to think outside the box and use some other methods to approach storage data on disc.

The work led them to using two different technologies: organic dyes based on azobenzene and a particular light antenna. They found that if they shine a laser on the azobenzene molecules in an electric field that it causes them to flip, which in turn causes the optical properties of the dye molecules to change. This then allowed them to become information carries, which the researchers can utilise; azobenzene films can be used to create optical memory which overcomes the diffraction limit.

The researchers also developed methods for recording and reading data from these films use a nanoantenna. This absorbs the light, then amplifies it and focusses it on the point where the data is being written or read.

The researchers said that with more improvement to this technology, they could reach data storage densities of perabytes per square inch. This would be a million times more information than a standard DVD and hundreds of times more than a standard modern hard disk drive.

“We could potentially solve the problem of how we will store the ever-growing amount of data in the future, especially for things such as video or the Internet of Things,” said Kazarian, the lead researcher on the project.

It’s certainly an interesting proposal. Whether consumers will still want to use optical media to store their data, on the other hand, is a different question entirely. When there’s so many other storage technologies being developed that could potentially store even more data, like using DNA, it’s certainly going to be a race to see which wins. Masses of data is being created every day and our current storage technologies can’t handle the capacity – will a new form of optical media be the answer?

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