Two professors at the State University of New York at Buffalo claim they have come up with a way to put massive amounts of data onto smaller hard drives, using nanotechnology and magnetic fields to alter the path of electrons through a conductor.
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Professors Harsh Deep Chopra and Susan Hua discovered a way to create an extremely responsive sensor by building what the researchers call a nanocontact - or an extremely small electrical conductor - in work completed last July.
The pair recently found an easier, more reliable means of creating the sensors, which could have enormous effects on the world of data storage.
Chopra claimed the sensor would allow hard drives to store data as densely packaged as a terabit (1 million bits) per square inch. Most standard PC hard drives can store from 20G bytes to 80G bytes, and are much larger.
Electrons in conventional conductors of electricity move in a zigzag pattern down the wire. The small conductor forces the electron to move in a straight line, eliminating the zigzag pattern and boosting resistance as a result.
A standard hard drive uses read heads to store and access data. A magnetic field is applied to the data bits, and an electrified read head senses the amount of electrical resistance caused by the magnetic field to interpret the data. The data bits are about the same size as the read heads.
To use the new type of sensor in hard drives, manufacturers would place the nanocontacts close to magnetized bits of data, and measure the resistance caused by the magnetic field. Using the nanocontacts as read heads means that drive makers could use extremely small bits. The smaller the data bit on a hard drive, the stronger the sensor needs to be to measure those changes in resistance caused by the magnetic field.
The nanoscale sensors were made from nickel, with the nanocontact "whisker" sitting between two nickel electrodes, which produces the electrical current.
Applications for these sensors are still some time off. It usually takes about five to eight years for new hard-drive technology to make its way into products. The researchers need to understand better exactly what caused the enormous resistance change for the technology to be used reliably.
Nanotechnology is a growing field being exploited by designers of future processors and other computer technology. Most major computer chip designers and vendors are working on the next generation of chip-making technology that will result in wires as thin as 90nms on a processor. IBM announced last October it had completed the world's smallest integrated circuit, measuring 12nms by 17nms.