A team of researchers have managed to boost storage density on traditional magnetic platters to up to 3.3 terabits of data per square inch, a six-fold improvement (ed: actually 5.28 times) on current storage density figures, simply by using NaCl, the ubiquitous table salt.
Seagate unveiled the first 4TB hard disk drive last month and this particular model had an areal density of 625Gb per square inch only. A research team, headed by Dr Joel Yang from Singapore's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering with other scientists from the A*STAR's DSI and NUS, used a technique called nanopatterning to create arrays of magnetic bits that have more regular features than the current traditional, randomly distributed technique.
Dr Yang compares the technique to a well known travelling trick; "It’s like packing your clothes in your suitcase when you travel. The neater you pack them the more you can carry." Yang said, "In the same way, the team of scientists has used nanopatterning to closely pack more of the miniature structures that hold information in the form of bits, per unit area".
By adding sodium chloride to a developer solution used in existing lithography processes, his team was able to generate "highly defined nanostructures down to 4.5 nm half pitch".
Another advantage that the technology offers is that it allows information to be stored in single magnetic grains rather than in clusters of grains as is currently the case.
Most importantly, all this is done without the need for expensive equipment upgrades, something that will catch the attention of hard disk drive makers like Seagate or Western Digital and could potentially accelerate the introduction of bigger hard disk drives or allow for even smaller hard disk drives to be introduced.
Intriguingly, the "salty developer solution" method was invented by Dr Yang when he was still a student at MIT where he graduated back in 2009 and worked on "sub-10-nm lithography using electron-beam patterning and block-copolymer self assembly".
Here are more details from the official media release (PDF here).