Hot little levers write beaucoup bits

Want a tip about the future of digital data storage? How about a thousand or a million tips

at once?

A large array of sharp, microscopic points (SN: 4/1/95, p. 207) can be outstanding for

recording and retrieving data on a layer of plastic, report Mark I. Lutwyche and his colleagues

at IBM’s research laboratory in Zurich. Currently in the prototype stage, a 1,024-tip device can

already write bits in less space—albeit in a spotty manner—than the best laboratory magnetic

disk drives can, the researchers claim. If the array were enlarged to a million tips, all operating

simultaneously and independently, the device could transfer data far more quickly than current

disk drives do, they say. “We think it’s feasible,” says IBM’s Gerd K. Binnig.

In the Nov. 13 Applied Physics Letters, the IBM group describes tests of its prototype 32 x 32

array of cantilevers resembling tiny diving boards with narrow blades poking down from their

free ends. Electrically heated, the blades indent the plastic surface or, heated less, leave it

unmarred to write “1” or “0” bits, respectively. The bits can be erased with another heat treatment,

which smoothes out the indentations.

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