Nanotechnology: The "Sugar Cube" That Remembers...

Matthew Gaylor (
Sat, 16 Jan 1999 15:55:06 -0500

Excerpted via... The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing Jan. 11, 1999 by Jeffrey R. Harrow Senior Consulting Engineer, Corporate Research, Compaq Computer Corporation, Insight, analysis and commentary on the innovations and trends of contemporary computing, and on the technologies that drive them (not necessarily the views of Compaq Computer Corporation).
ISSN: 1520-8117

Copyright (c)1999, Compaq Computer Corporation

The "Sugar Cube" That Remembers...

Last issue we talked about how nanotechnology may, eventually, enable us to store "...a hundred billion billion bytes in a volume the size of a sugar cube"
( But of course that's off in the far future. So how about a mere "100 trillion bits of data in a cubic centimeter of space?"

Brought to our attention by RCFoC reader Alan Maltzman from the Dec. 15 Nikkei English News, it seems that Japan Science and Technology Corp. and Kyoto University's Hirao Active Glass Project is pursuing an optical storage device that will use femtosecond lasers (pulsing a thousand-trillion times each second) to store a hundred terabits of data in that tiny volume.

They begin with today's optical storage technique of using a laser to burn pits in a surface. But they combine this with the laser's ability to alter the state of a rare earth element called "samarium," mixed into this glass storage medium, in a special way. Rather than burning a simple "on or off" pit, the samarium can be altered to only "burn out" certain "colors" from each spot, thereby allowing each spot to take on one of many different values (rather than only a 1 or 0).

This is only "basic research" at this time. But it is a good reminder that it may not take the seemingly far-out technology breakthroughs of nanotechnology to make potentially vast differences in how we compute -- shorter-term innovation might allow us to store a year of Digital TV content in a glass sugar cube. Just don't drop it in your cup of coffee...


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