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Brief Published: 5 Aug 2014

Liquid Hard Drives

A spoonful of data

We could soon be storing terabytes by the tablespoon, thanks to new research from scientists at the University of Michigan and New York University in the US. By suspending nanoparticles in a liquid solution, they have developed a "liquid hard drive" that could one day be implanted into our brains.

The colloidal clusters of nanoparticles could hold much more information than conventional hard drives – up to a terabyte of data for every tablespoon of storage. A smartphone-sized hard drive would be needed to store the equivalent amount in the traditional way.

The particles store data by switching between two states when encased in the liquid – mimicking the binary structure of digitally stored data. The particles cluster around a central sphere. Heating the liquid up changes the size of the sphere – causing the particles to rearrange and for different information to be stored. Sharon Glotzer, who led the research, likens the structure to that of a Rubik's Cube, with all the particles revolving around a central point.

The team is currently working on a method of keeping the data stable and easily extractable. Early use cases include using the liquid as a unique identifier – enabling the tracking of controlled substances such as chemicals or explosives. The liquid could also, theoretically, be made biocompatible, opening up opportunities such as data storage in the blood stream.

The biological world is inspiring a new generation of living computers. DNA data storage is already up to seven times more efficient than a computer's hard drive. For more on this and other bio-hardware developments, read The Biology Boom.