Your USB is killing the planet. This is the solution.

Two trays of gold powders at different stages of refining are pictured at a Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo factory in Kanagawa prefecture August 20, 2009. The factory produces gold bars and gold products for industrial and commercial use, and recycles gold from old products such as jewellery and industrial scrap. REUTERS/Michael Caronna (JAPAN BUSINESS) - GM1E58K1GUO01

Powder isn’t the first unusual storage medium for data scientists have developed. Image: REUTERS/Michael Caronna

Kristin Houser
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Data Science

Data Powder

Data might be the most valuable resource in the world, but we’re quickly approaching the physical limits of the magnetic systems we use to store most of it. Additionally, mining the materials needed to create those systems, such as hard drives or USB sticks, is a burden on the environment.

Given all that, it’s not surprising that finding new ways to store data is a top research priority. Now, a team from Ghent University thinks it may have figured out a promising new medium: powder.

Written In Code

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the team describes the process of storing small amounts of information, such as a bit of text or a QR code, in a powder.

Image: Nature

Using a chemical process they developed, the team figured out a way to translate information into the chemical signature of a sequence-defined macromolecule, which is a type of molecule with a specific chain length and defined groups. They then wrote two computer algorithms. One automates the process of translating the data into its chemical form and vice versa. The other program ensures this process happens quickly.

As a result of these efforts, they were able to produce powders that contained links to websites and apps.

Have you read?

Data Everywhere

This isn’t the first unusual storage medium for data we’ve come across — researchers are figuring out ways to store data in everything from DNA to diamonds.

Ultimately, most of these new mediums are still a long way from being ready to replace the ones currently hosting the world’s data. But given that our production of data is shows no signs of slowing down, neither can our efforts to find better storage mediums.

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