We Now Know to Encode Huge Amounts of Data onto Diamonds


We Now Know to Encode Huge Amounts of Data onto Diamonds

Image credits George Hodan / Publicdomainpictures
Image credits George Hodan / Publicdomainpictures

Who would’ve guessed that diamonds would one day be used for storing information? We’ve seen it in sci-fi movies, but we’ve always thought that it was just to put something shiny in the film which doesn’t require much explanation. Anyway, a team at the City College of New York were able to develop a way through which such a thing was made possible. They made use of the microscopic defects in the crystal lattice.

“We are the first group to demonstrate the possibility of using diamond as a platform for the superdense memory storage,” said study lead author Siddharth Dhomkar.

The technology works similarly to how CDs and DVDs store information. Diamonds are made out of a cubic lattice of carbon atoms. But since nothing in this world is absolutely perfect, an atom just isn’t there. Thus the whole structure is left with a hole; a sort of structural defect. These holes are also referred to as nitrogen vacancy centers since nitrogen atoms align according to these defects.

These spaces are negatively charged – as there are no protons over there to offset the charge of electrons from the other atoms close by. The team discovered that by shining a laser on these defects, they were able to change their electrical charge, and thus, alter how that empty space behaved.These vacancies with a negative charge fluoresced brightly, while the other ones remained dark. This change can also be reversible, is very long-lasting and stable under weak to medium levels of illumination.

And just like a laser can encode data on a CD, so can it be used on a diamond by changing the charges in those naturally occurring defects. Thus, scientists can now write, read, erase and re-write on the diamonds as many times as they wish, the team said.

Dhomkar said that in principle, each bit of data can be encoded in a spot a few nanometers — a few billionths of a meter — wide. This is a much denser information packing than in any similar data storing device. So we could use diamonds to build the superdense computer memories of the future. But, we currently have no way to read or write on such a small scale so currently “the smallest bit size that we have achieved is comparable to a state-of-the-art DVD,” Dhomkar told Live Science.

Here “but nr.2” comes into the picture. We can’t yet fully use the diamonds’ capacity, but the team has shown they can encode data in 3D by stacking layers of 2D data stores.

“One can enhance storage capacity dramatically by utilizing the third dimension,” Dhomkar said.

By using this 3D approach, the technique could be used to store up to 100 times more data than a typical DVD. Dhomkar and his team are now looking into developing ways to read and write the diamond stores with greater density.

“The storage density of such an optimized diamond chip would then be far greater than a conventional hard disk drive,” he said.

The full paper “Long-term data storage in diamond” has been published in the journal Science Advances.