Seminal Michael Faraday paper digitally stored in fluorescent dyes

Harvard researchers have developed a data-storage approach based on mixtures of fluorescent dyes that are printed onto an epoxy surface in tiny spots. The mixture of dyes at each spot encodes information that is then read with a fluorescent microscope.

Optical disks, flash drives, and magnetic hard disk drives can only store digital information for a few decades, and they tend to require a lot of energy to maintain, making these methods less than ideal for long-term data storage. So researchers have been looking into using molecules as alternatives, most notably in DNA data storage. Those methods come with their own challenges, however, including high synthesis costs and slow read and write rates.

Now, Harvard University scientists have figured out how to use fluorescent dyes as bits for a cheaper, faster means of data storage, according to a new paper published in the journal ACS Central Science. The researchers tested their method by storing one of 19th-century physicist Michael Faraday‘s seminal papers on electromagnetic and chemistry, as well as a JPEG image of Faraday.

“This method could provide access to archival data storage at a low cost,” said co-author Amit A. Nagarkar, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow in George Whitesides’ Harvard lab. “[It] provides access to long-term data storage using existing commercial technologies—inkjet printing and fluorescence microscopy.” Nagarkar is now working for a startup company that wants to commercialize the method.

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