nano piano
March 18, 2015

Nano piano’s melody could mean storage breakthrough

Brett Smith for - @ParkstBrett

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently open the door new information processing and storage by have demonstrating the first-ever recording of optically-encoded audio onto a miniscule structure called a non-magnetic plasmonic nanostructure.

"The chip's dimensions are roughly equivalent to the thickness of human hair," explained lead researcher Kimani Toussaint, an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering.

According to an article published in the journal Scientific Reports, Toussaint’s team utilized an array of novel gold, pillar-supported bowtie nanoantennas (pBNAs) to store sound and audio files. The report noted that the storage capacity of pBNAs is around 5,600 times bigger than the magnetic film used for analog data storage.

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Arrays of gold, pillar-supported bowtie nanoantennas can be used to record distinct musical notes. (Credit: University of Illinois)

"Data storage is one interesting area to think about," Toussaint said. "For example, one can consider applying this type of nanotechnology to enhancing the niche, but still important, analog technology used in the area of archival storage such as using microfiche.”

“In addition, our work holds potential for on-chip, plasmonic-based information processing,” Toussaint added.


To demonstrate the ability to use pBNAs for sound information storage, researchers stored eight musical notes and played them back to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.

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The novel technique requires the use of a microscope, which is used to translate a sound-modulated laser beam onto the nanostructures. Playback is achieved by using the same microscope to read the recorded audio waveform.

"Our approach is analogous to the method of 'optical sound,' which was developed circa 1920s as part of the effort to make 'talking' motion pictures," the report said. "Although there were variations of this process, they all shared the same basic principle. An audio pickup, e.g., a microphone, electrically modulates a lamp source.”

“Variations in the intensity of the light source is encoded on semi-transparent photographic film (e.g., as variation in area) as the film is spatially translated,” the report continued, describing the 20th century technique. “Decoding this information is achieved by illuminating the film with the same light source and picking up the changes in the light transmission on an optical detector, which in turn may be connected to speakers.”

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“In the work that we present here, the pBNAs serve the role of the photographic film which we can encode with audio information via direct laser writing in an optical microscope,” the report said.


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