We live in a world of physical computing. Solids and silicon store all our tweets, texts, and selfies, but what if the traditional ways of computing underwent a phase change?
Researchers from the University of Michigan and New York University demonstrated how plastic nanoparticles, deposited in a liquid, can form a one-bit cluster — the essential building block for information storage. It’s called “wet computing,” and the technique mimics other biological processes found in nature, like DNA in living cells.
The above 30-second video shows the particles in action — simply riveting. But here’s where things get interesting:
Unique configurations of particles stand for different states. A memory cluster of four particles connected to a central sphere can have two states like a conventional bit. But a 12-particle cluster, for example, could have nearly 8 million unique states, representing 2.86 bytes of data or 22.9 conventional bits.
The simulation group…showed that a tablespoon of solution containing 12-nanoparticle clusters could store a terabyte of data…compared with a smartphone-sized external hard drive…”
Storage on such a scale sounds pretty unrealistic and not to mention crazy expensive, but Sharon Glotzer, a chemical engineering professor from UM, says they made sure to use cheap materials “that could be made by the bucket full” and also let them read and write information.
That doesn’t mean we can all have multi-terabyte hard drives poured into discarded Aquafina bottles. The team notes that this is just a first step down the long, somewhat moist road of wet computing. We’re most likely going to see this type of storage first integrate with soft robotics, which also dispenses with the rigid forms of its field. But maybe, in time, we’ll have vials of a sweet, liquid storage. [ExtremeTech]