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New Breakthrough In Ultra-Fast Data Access

June 1, 2009

Physicists in France may be leading the way to a new generation of IT wizardry after revealing on Sunday they had used ultra-fast lasers that could accelerate storage and retrieval of data on hard discs by up to 100,000 times, AFP reported.

The latest achievement expands on Nobel physics prize winning research by Albert Fert of France and Peter Gruenberg of Germany, who ushered in a revolution in miniaturized storage in the 1990s.

The duo won a Nobel in 2007 after they discovered that tiny changes in magnetic fields can yield a large electric output.

They soon found that those differences in magnetic fields cause changes in the current in the readout head that scans a hard disk to spot the ones and zeroes in which data is stored.

This soon lead to “spintronics”, a form of electronics that uses not only electrical charge but also the spin of electrons in individual atoms to provide a more compact, denser storage on hard drives.

However, the relative slowness of magnetic sensors have hampered the reading and writing data through spintronics.

Jean-Yves Bigot of the Institute of Materials Physics and Chemistry in Strasbourg and colleagues employed a “femtosecond” laser using ultra-fast bursts of laser light to alter electron spin and thus speed up retrieval and storage.

Bigot told AFP their method is called the photonics of spin because it is photons [particles of light] that modify the state of the electrons’ magnetization on the storage surface.

He explained that data is retrieved with a burst that lasts just a millionth of a billionth of a second.

He cautioned that femtosecond lasers currently measure around 12 inches by 4 inches, making them too big for consumer electronics.

But he believes their miniaturization is likely to be achieved over the next decade.

Bigot said that IBM, Hitachi and other corporations are “extremely interested” by the research, published in the specialist journal Nature Physics.

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