Are liquid hard drives the future of storage?

Maybe I’m a wimp, but it’s starting to seem like some scientists have a death wish. I was always taught that water and electronics were best kept faaaaaaaaaaaaar away from each other, but first researchers decided that dew could one day be used to recharge phones, and now they’re looking at whether liquids could play a part in home computing. Did they skip the part of infant school where teachers gave stern warnings about not electrocuting yourself?

Anyway, not letting any fear of the elements hold them back, a team from the University of Michigan tested whether information stored on clusters of microscopic particles suspended in liquid could be a practical way to expand data storage.

They created a cluster of five spheres in liquid and watched them switch naturally between two states, like the 0s and 1s of binary code. As the clusters can arrange themselves in a limited number of ways, the researchers realised that each state could be used to represent information, creating a rudimentary code.

Sharon Glotzer, who led the study, said ‘It’s really just the first baby steps.’ They’re now working on ways to lock clusters in a particular state that can be unlocked when needed, as a way to store and secure data. For this, they plan to use a central sphere made from gel that can change size easily.

Because the particles being used are so small, it might one day be possible for a terabyte of data to be stored in something the size of a tablespoon. But the team doesn’t know if their experiment will work with larger amounts of liquid.

Klaus-Peter Zauner from the University of Southampton told New Scientist that as yet, there’s no way to read and write data to this unconventional new form of storage, but suggested that clusters might have a future use in nanoengineering.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with keeping my laptop as dry as possible. (And no, I won’t be dunking my mobile anytime soon.)

Image via Neil Sequeira’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley