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Laser-activated magnets to cause data speeds to soar

16 March 2020

Mini magnets could enable cloud computing systems to process data up to 100x faster than current technologies, a study suggests.

Computer model of a single-molecule magnet. (Image: Olof Johansson)
Computer model of a single-molecule magnet. (Image: Olof Johansson)

Chemists have studied a new magnetic material that could boost the storage capacity and processing speed of hard drives used in cloud-based servers. This could enable people using cloud data systems to load large files in seconds instead of minutes.

Magnetic molecule

A team led by Edinburgh scientists created the material – known as a single-molecule magnet – in the lab.

They discovered that a chemical bond that gives the compound its magnetic properties can be controlled by shining rapid pulses from a laser.

The compound is composed mainly of the element manganese, which is named after the Latin word magnes, which means magnet.

Laser pulses

The team’s findings suggest that data could be stored and accessed on the magnets using laser pulses, lasting one-millionth of a billionth of a second.

They estimate this could enable hard drives fitted with the magnets to process data up to 100x faster than current technologies.

Improved efficiency

The development could also improve the energy efficiency of cloud computing systems, which collectively emit as much carbon as the aviation industry.

Existing hard drives store data using a magnetic field, generated by passing an electric current through a wire, which generates a lot of heat. Replacing this with a laser-activated mechanism would be more energy-efficient as it does not produce heat.

“There is an ever-increasing need to develop new ways of improving data storage devices,” said Dr Olof Johansson, School of Chemistry.

“Our findings could increase the capacity and energy efficiency of hard drives used in cloud-based storage servers, which require tremendous amounts of power to operate and keep cool. This work could help scientists develop the next generation of data storage devices,” he concluded.

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