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Volume 70, Issue 64, Friday, November 19, 2004


UH research to redefine data storage

UH professors lead federally funded N-PMR project

By Bryan Wolfford
The Daily Cougar

Every song recorded in the 1990s on one compact disc.

Every horror film ever made on a DVD.

The contents of the Library of Congress on your handheld computer.

A $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation is helping UH researchers bring those dreams closer to reality.

Electrical engineering professors Dmitri Litvinov and Jack Wolfe are the principal investigators in developing the first nano-patterned medium recording, which stores data at one terabyte per square inch. That's the equivalent of storing the contents of 1,500 compact discs on an area the size of a postage stamp.

The technology could revolutionize the multibillion-dollar magnetic data storage industry, which has doubled in size each year for the past five years. But the industry is running into a limit on the amount of data it can store on traditional media.

"The system that we are now developing will allow us to extend this limit by a factor of 10, maybe more," Wolfe said. "This would mean another decade of impressive growth for the magnetic data storage industry."

The limit has to do with the amount of energy needed to read and write from magnetic media, and it is projected to bring the industry's growth to a halt by 2007.

Two ways exist to pass the limit: complicated and expensive thermally assisted recording and N-PMR, the technique Litvinov, Wolfe and their colleagues are working on at UH.

The research is aimed at recording data on individual crystallites, the tiny building blocks of the magnetic media. Recording today is done on between 50 and 100 crystallites.

Wolfe said his team should be able to record in ever-smaller areas, eventually as small as one or two nanometers -- just above the atomic level.

To help make that possible, chemistry and chemical engineering professor T. Randall Lee is working on a way to make microscopic particles arrange themselves in such a way that they can be used in photolithography, which is like printing, but done with light on a very small scale.

"First we have to prepare the nanoparticles so that they are all the same shape and size and then coat them with a special material so that they assemble in a regular pattern," Lee said. "We are the experts in nanoparticle synthesis and coating technology, and for 10 years now our group has been working on self-assembled films that are at the forefront of technology. We know how to tailor the properties of these thin films very specifically, and now, the only real challenge is to avoid defects."

Other principal investigators on the N-PMR project include Dieter Weller, vice president and executive director of media development at Seagate Technologies, the world's No. 1 producer of hard drives and C. Grant Willson, engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin.

Corporate sponsors include Seagate Technologies, Molecular Imprints, LBNL and Euxine Technologies.

The new, higher-density CDs and hard drives could allow music CDs that contain several albums and discounted textbooks on disc.

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