Graphene hard drives

magnetic graphene hard drive
Graphene sheet. Image by AlexanderAlUS via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have made graphene magnetic and believe this might lead to hard drives that can store one million times more data.

Graphene is a bit of a wunderkind. It is made up of two dimensional sheets of carbon molecules that are only one atom thick. Charcoal and the graphite in pencils comprise hundreds of thousands of graphene layers. Graphene is very strong (100 times stronger than steel) and conducts both heat and electricity very efficiently. 

The scientific community is so excited about graphene and it’s potential appplications that the scientists who discovered graphene, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, won a Nobel Prize. It could be used to make better batteries, sensors and conductors. It is being used to make lighter tennis racquets and skis, and better touch screens. And now it may improve hard drives too.

While graphene is many things, it is not reliably magnetic. However, a group of scientists recently worked out how to make graphene magnetic through a chemical reaction that binds hydrogen atoms to the carbon atoms in the graphene. They then used a electron beam of a microscope to break the chemical bonds between some of the hydrogens and carbons. This removed the hydrogen atoms and these areas of graphene were no longer magnetic. This method is called electron beam lithography and can be used to write magnetic patterns onto graphene sheets. These patterns could encode data. If each carbon-hydrogen bond could hold one bit of data, then this system could make hard drives that could hold one million times more data than current hard drives. Furthermore, the information could be easily cleared by repeating the chemical reaction that bonded hydrogen to carbon in the first place.

For this approach to work, it require very precise atom-by-atom patterning which is not yet possible with current technology. Also it is important that the hydrogen-carbon bonds are stable over a long period of time under the temperature conditions that occur in a computer. The authors of this paper did not comment on how long these bonds were stable. So while this is a really exciting step forward in graphene research, it is unlikely to be in your computer any time soon.

The Scientific Paper:

Lee et al. Patterning magnetic regions in hydrogenated graphene via E-beam irradiation. Advanced Materials. 2015.

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