A “spray-on” memory that allows for a tiny amount of data to be printed onto surfaces has been created by a team from Duke University.
Students at the institution used an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks to create a material capable of storing data that is also incredibly flexible. The chemists behind the project say the method, if adapted for mass and commercial use, could be used to store digital information on groceries, pill bottles, clothing and more.
Published in the Journal of Electronic Materials, the researchers describe how the material, made of silica-coated copper nanowires encased in a polymer matrix, stores data in states of resistance.
Using resistance to store data, instead of states of electrical charge, means that a voltage can be applied to help store and access the data quickly and easily.
“By applying a small voltage, it can be switched between a state of high resistance, which stops electric current, and a state of low resistance, which allows current to flow,” a statement from the University explains. The nanowires and polymer can then be dissolved into liquid form and sprayed using a printer.
“We have developed a way to make the entire device printable from solution, which is what you would want if you wanted to apply it to fabrics, RFID tags, curved and flexible substrates, or substrates that can’t sustain high heat,” Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and an author on the paper said.
To prove the printable material is able to store data, the research team passed an electrical current through the material to power an LED circuit which saw the lights switch on and off. Overall, those behind the work say the spray-on material is able to hold the equivalent of a 4-bit flash drive.
This tiny amount of data storage shows the researchers’ proof of concept works, but more work will need to be done before anything meaningful could be stored on the material. If developed further, the Duke University team says the material could be printed onto environmental sensors or RFID tags as well as bendable materials such as plastic and paper.
The attempt to create a new way to store data is one of a number of different approaches being created by academics. In March, academics from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center demonstrated how they were able to store a movie, operating system, and an Amazon gift card in DNA. In the work, the data from – totalling 2,146,816 bytes – was converted to DNA using an algorithm before being retrieved “perfectly” from its state of storage.
Elsewhere, a tiny engraved piece of glass has been able to store 360TB of five dimensional data. A team at the University of Southampton stored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta and the Bible on the glass by storing it on five dimensions: height, width, depth, and two other dimensions produced by nanostructures in the glass. The data was added to the material with a femtosecond laser.