Current optical and magnetic data storage technologies can store an impressive amount of information, but the data typically last less than 2 decades. Researchers have now stored data in tiny dots of glowing dye molecules as a low-cost, potentially longer-lasting storage option (ACS Cent. Sci. 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.1c00728).
George M. Whitesides of Harvard University and colleagues used an inkjet printer to deposit droplets of fluorescent dye solutions on an epoxy surface. Each droplet encodes a text character using a mixture of up to seven dye colors. The presence or absence of each color represents a one or zero. The researchers use a fluorescence microscope to decipher the individual colors and read the data.
Compared with molecular data storage systems that require synthesizing and sequencing DNA, the dye-based system is “simple and low cost,” says Whitesides, who is also a board member at the data storage solution start-up Datacule.
The dye-based system could write data at an average of 16 bytes per second and read at about 59 B/s. By reducing the spacing of the dots from 30 to 1 µm, the researchers should be able to get a density of 0.8 gigabits/cm2, almost as high as the 1.28 Gbits/cm2 density of magnetic tape.
The low cost would be the main advantage over magnetic tape and DNA storage, says Robert Grass, a chemical engineer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich. “The beauty of it is its simplicity,” he says.