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Table salt used to boost digital storage: scientists
by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) Oct 14, 2011


Scientists in Singapore said Friday they have discovered a process that can expand the data storage capacity of computer hard disks six-fold using a common kitchen ingredient -- table salt.

The discovery was made by Singapore's national research institute the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, in collaboration with the National University of Singapore and the Data Storage Institute.

The institutions have "developed a process that can increase the data recording density of hard disks to 3.3 Terabits per square inch, six times the recording density of current models", they said in a statement.

"This means that a hard disk drive that holds 1 Terabyte (TB) of data today could, in the future, hold 6 TB of information in the same size using this new technology."

The discovery has been published in scientific journal Nanotechnology as well as the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology B.

Scientists were able to boost data storage capacity by packing more bits -- miniature structures which hold information -- in neater patterns compared to the random configurations used in current hard disk drives.

"Its like packing your clothes in your suitcase when you travel. The neater you pack them the more you can carry," the statement said.

The method -- called bit patterning -- had previously not been feasible as scientists were unable to see the outlines of the bits clearly after they had been printed onto a film in a process much like developing photographs.

But adding table salt into the solution used for bit imaging allowed the outlines to stand out in sharp relief.

"It can give you a very high contrast. We are now able to see fine lines that would normally be blurred out," Joel Yang, the Singapore scientist who discovered the salty recipe, told AFP.

"Otherwise you can try your best to pattern these bits very closely but they will all end up being gigantic blurred-out blobs," said Yang of the national research agency's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering.

Yang predicted that the salted bit-patterning process will be adopted by the industry by 2016 "when the current techniques run out of fuel and (hard drive manufacturers) need to find alternate methods" of increasing data storage space.

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