A group of researchers from the University of Sheffield and University of Leeds have discovered a method of improving the efficiency of data storage systems by using sound waves. The scientists have found that by modulating the waves, similar to singing, large amounts of data can be moved. They believe it can significantly improve loading time, besides consuming a lot less power. The research has been published in Applied Physics Letters.
Most of the world’s 2.7 zettabytes (2.7 followed by 21 zeros) of data are stored on magnetic hard disk drives. The moving parts essentially restrict its operating speed. In contrast, solid state drives are considerably faster due to the absence of any moving parts. Current SSDs store and move data electrically. Dr Tom Hayward from the University of Sheffield and Professor John Cunningham from the University of Leeds have devised a method, whereby surface acoustic waves (SAW) are used to move the data. Interestingly, it has been observed, that the rate of data flow can be altered by regulating the pitch of the sound wave. In essence, ‘singing’ to a storage device can speed up the data transfer rate.
The new technique is an improvement over the ‘racetrack memory’, that is itself an alternative to current SSD solutions. In racetrack memory, magnetic bits of data run along tiny magnetic wire “racetracks”. However, it consumes a lot of electrical power and also generates a fair amount of heat. Hayward and Cunningham have instead used SAW, similar to the ones produced during earthquakes to move data along the fixed wires.
According to Hayward, the main advantage of using sound waves is their ability to travel a few centimetres before without decaying. But, it is a huge distance at the nano-scale of the technique being applied. “Because of this, we think a single sound wave could be used to “sing” to large numbers of nanowires simultaneously, enabling us to move a lot of data using very little power. We’re now aiming to create prototype devices in which this concept can be fully tested,” he said.