Salt crystals promise improved data storage

Humble salt crystals could hold the key to improved data storage, but have until now been very hard to to create with enough accuracy.

But researchers at the University of Edinburgh have been using low-energy lasers to make salt crystals in gel that could be used to store more than 100 times as much data as current systems. A terabyte could be stored in a space the size of a sugarcube, they say.

Growing regular salt crystals is trickier than it seems. The researchers managed it by focusing two overlapping low-energy lasers on a salt solution to form a temporary crystal.

“This research builds on a discovery that was made by accident many years ago, when it was found that light can be used to trigger crystal formation,” said Dr Andy Alexander of the University’s School of Chemistry. “We have refined this technique and now we can create crystals on demand.

The researchers believe their technique could be used to improve on traditional methods of optical data storage. Three-dimensional optical data storage uses many more layers, with the crystals acting as storage points and data read optically.

“There is much work to be done before these crystals can be used in practical applications such as optical storage, but we believe they have significant potential,” said Alexander.