Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are exploring a new system for data storage based on tiny eddies in magnetic fields, virtual particles known as "skyrmions".
The skyrmions are stable despite external disturbances, and can be used to store data with more density than conventional magnetic storage devices. Unlike the individual poles used in conventional magnetic storage devices, the data can be stored in an area just a few atoms across.
The data storage density can be improved not only for hard disks, but also for RAM chips. The implications of the study allow for bypassing the physical limits of data storage on conventional magnetic storage devices. The data density on conventional storage devices has been improving at a steady rate for decades, but now is approaching the limits of how much data can be physically stored.
The researchers have figured out that the skyrmions can be pinned to a surface by introducing tiny defects in a magnetic layer, that is sandwiched very close to another layer of a non-magnetic heavy metal.
Now the researchers are investigating ways to easily read the data, that can be implemented in conventional computer systems. The data can currently be read using an expensive X-ray spectrograph, and adding an X-ray lens to a reading head may cost as much as $50,000 per lens. A possible solution is adding another textured layer of metal, and measuring the electrical resistance of the textured layer to detect the presence of skyrmions in the adjacent layer.
The findings have been published in Nature Nanotechnology.