• United States

New chemistry-based data storage would blow Moore’s Law out of the water

News Analysis
Feb 28, 20193 mins
Data CenterEnterprise Storage

If successful, a computing technique being developed by researchers at Arizona State University would allow transistors to fit on individual molecules – smaller than Moore ever envisioned.

Molecular electronics, where charges move through tiny, sole molecules, could be the future of computing and, in particular, storage, some scientists say.

Researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) point out that a molecule-level computing technique, if its development succeeds, would slam Gordon Moore’s 1965 prophesy — Moore’s Law — that the number of transistors on a chip will double every year, and thus allow electronics to get proportionally smaller. In this case, hardware, including transistors, will conceivably fit on individual molecules, reducing chip sizes much more significantly than Moore ever envisaged.

“The intersection of physical and chemical properties occurring at the molecular scale” is now being explored, and shows promise, an ASU article says. The researchers think Moore’s miniaturization projections will be blown out of the water.

Ultra-miniaturization, using chemistry and its molecules and atoms, has been on the scientific community radar for a while. However, it’s been rocky—temperature has been a problem, among other things.

One big issue, which may be about to be solved, is related to controlling flowing electrons. The flowing current, acting like a wave, gets interfered with—a bit like a water wave. The trouble is called quantum interference and is an area in which the researchers claim to be making progress.

Researchers want to get a handle on “not only measuring quantum phenomena in single molecules, but also controlling them,” says Nongjian “NJ” Tao, director of the ASU’s Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors, in the article.

He says that by figuring the charge-transport properties better, they’ll be able to develop the new, ultra-tiny electronics devices. If successful, data storage equipment and the general processing of information could end up operating through high-speed, high-power molecular switches. Transistors and rectifiers could also become molecular scale. Miniaturization-limiting silicon could be replaced.

“A single organic molecule suspended between a pair of electrodes as a current is passed through the tiny structure” is the foundation for the experiments, the school explains. A system called electrochemical gating, where conductance is controlled is then used. It manages the interference and is related to how “waves in water can combine to form a larger wave or cancel one another out, depending on their phase.” Through this science, the researchers say they’ve been able to, for the first time ever, fine-tune conductance in a molecule. That’s a big step. 

I’ve written before about chemistry “superseding traditional engineering” in shrinking data storage. Last year, unrelated to this ASU and others’ quantum interference project, Brown University said it was working on ways to store terabytes of data chemically in a flask of liquid.

“Synthetic molecule storage in liquids could one day replace hard drives,” I wrote. In a proof of concept, the Brown team loaded an 81-pixel image onto 25 separate molecules using a chemical reaction. It works similarly to how pharmaceuticals get components onto one molecule.

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland are also attempting to reduce data-storage size through chemistry. That team explained in a media release late last year that it plans to use a technique similar to what’s used to record to CD, where metal is melted within plastic and then allowed to reform, thus encoding data. But they want to attempt it on an ultra-miniature atomic or molecular level. It’s just succeeded controlling molecules in a self-organizing network.

All of the research is impressive, and like the ASU article says, “It’s unlikely Moore could have foreseen the extent of the electronics revolution currently underway.”


Patrick Nelson was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Patrick Nelson and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.