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Belgian research could replace USB sticks with data stored in powder
JAY GORY, MANAGING EDITOR, science
Belgian researchers have developed a way of storing data in powder form, which they hope will replace less environmentally friendly technology such as USB sticks and avert a data storage crisis. Chemistry, biochemistry and computer science boffins at the University of Ghent have invented a chemical process which can store information such as a QR-code or a short text in powder. The scientists were inspired by DNA, which stores genetic information. The data can be read by biochemical analysis which links the powder molecules to a website, map or app. There are two programs used to speed up the process; one which makes sure the analysis takes only seconds and another to translate the info between QR-code and date. Researchers hope to develop the technology further so that it can store as much data as USB sticks, which can carry photos and whole films. But USB sticks or hard drives need large amounts of metals that are environmentally harmful to mine.  Servers to store information can also be large and hugely energy consuming. New solutions were needed to store the “exponentially rising demand” for data storage over the last decade as humans use data for everything from bank accounts to YouTube videos,” said Steven Martens, part of the team of researchers. Amount of data created worldwide each year is accelerating “I never imagined becoming part of an interdisciplinary research project for which I’d have to store sentences and QR codes on molecules, nor did I suspect I’d be working together with the biochemistry and informatics departments,” he said. “The possibility of using DNA has been explored by scientists as an alternative for storing data, but practical limitations have popped up in the process,” he added, “to counter these disadvantages, chemists have been trying in recent years to store data on synthetic sequence-defined macromolecules.” Researchers, who have been working on the technology for the last five years, published details of the technology and their interdisciplinary approach in scientific journal Nature Communications. In March last year, Dutch researchers successfully coded data on a single atom for the first time.  read more
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