Chemists create self-assembling polymer that quintuples hard drive capacity

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We’re already at the terabyte level of hard drives, but imagine if that capacity was quintupled—University of Texas researchers have created a self-assembling polymer that could be used to quintuple the capacity of hard drives called block copolymer. That could mean storage for practically everything—files, games, HD quality movies, and every photo album you’ve ever had—with room to spare.

Currently, information is stored through the use of printing zeroes and ones as magnetic dots on a metal surface, with the amount of information able to be stored being relative to the spacing of the dots. The closer the dots, the more information can be stored. With current technology, the dots have become so close together that any decrease in the spacing between them would cause instability due to the neighboring dots’ magnetic fields. With current technology, hard drive space can only be doubled, which is why you see a lot of hard drives as either 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB or 2 TB depending on your personal needs.

Block copolymer, a grouping of polymers made out of more than one bondable molecule, can rearrange itself in the most economical way possible via self-directed assembly when the catalyst of heat is added—a perfect combination considering hard drives heat up because you’re always accessing data that is stored in the hard drive, which means that if this goes to market, you can see HDDs of 10 TB or more.

Although many people are going the solid state drive (SSD) route for their next storage solution, it could face serious competition when the block copolymer HDDs become commercially available. Currently, the project is being worked on with HGST, which is a subsidiary of Western Digital, one of the world’s top producers of hard drives.