Tag Archives: storage media

Floppies aren’t dead

Today’s exciting news on Twitter is that one or more of the Department of Defense systems used to coordinate ICBMs and nuclear bombers still use 8-inch floppy disks. A spokesperson for the DoD explained, “It still works.” The computer is an IBM Series/1 that dates from the seventies.
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Spintronics for data storage

DNA data storage sounds like the stuff of science fiction, yet other technologies look even farther out. Spintronics data storage offers greater storage density and stability than magnetic storage, if engineers can get it to work. It depends on the quantum property of an electron called “spin,” which is a measure of angular momentum but doesn’t exactly mean the electron is spinning like an orbiting planet. Analogies of quantum properties to the macroscopic world don’t work very well.

It turns out there are more kinds of magnetism than the ferromagnetism we’re familiar with. Spintronics uses antiferromagnetism. With ferromagnetic materials, ions all line up their individual magnetic fields in the same direction, so that the material overall has a noticeable magnetic field. In antiferromagnetic materials, they line up in “antiparallel” formation, head to head and tail to tail, so that the fields cancel out and there’s no magnetic field on a large scale. With materials of this kind, it’s feasible (for cutting-edge values of “feasible”) to manipulate the spin of the electrons of individual atoms (or perhaps pairs of atoms is more exact), flipping them magnetically.
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A closer look at DNA storage

A week ago, in my article “Data Storage Meets Biotech,” I wrote about work on DNA as a data storage medium. People on the Internet are getting wildly optimistic about it, talking about storing the entire Internet in a device that’s the size of a sugar cube and will last for centuries. Finding serious analysis is difficult.

DNA molecule representationFor most people, DNA is some kind of magic. The Fantastic Four gained their powers when space radiation altered their DNA. Barack Obama, in one of the most inappropriate metaphors in presidential history, said racism is “part of our DNA that’s passed on.” People want mandatory warning labels on food containing DNA. Finding knowledgeable discussion amid all the noise is difficult. I’m certainly no chemist; I started out majoring in chemistry, but fled soon after my first encounter with college-level lab work.
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Data storage meets biotech

With Microsoft’s entry into the field, the use of DNA for data storage is an increasingly serious area of research. DNA is effectively a base-4 data medium, it’s extremely compact, and it contains its own copying mechanism.

DNA molecule representationDNA has actually been used to store data; in 2012 researchers at Harvard wrote a book into a DNA molecule and read it back. It’s still much more expensive than competing technologies, though; a recent estimate says it costs $12,000 to write a megabyte and $200 to read it back. The article didn’t specify the scale; surely the cost per megabyte would go down rapidly with the amount of data stored in one molecule.

Don’t expect a disk drive in a molecule. DNA isn’t a random-access medium. Rather, it would be used to archive a huge amount of information and later read it back in bulk. A wild idea would be to store information in a human ovum so it would be passed through generations, making it literal ancestral memory. Now there’s real Mad File Format Science for you!