Seminal Michael Faraday paper digitally stored in fluorescent dyes

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Optical discs, flash drives and magnetic hard disk drives can store digital information for only a few decades, and they require a lot of energy to maintain, making these methods less than ideal for long-term data storage. goes. So researchers are using the molecules as alternatives, particularly in DNA data storage. However, those methods come with their own challenges, including high synthesis costs and slow read and write rates.

Now, scientists at Harvard University have figured out how to use fluorescent dyes as bits for a cheap, fast means of data storage. a new paper Published in the journal ACS Central Science. Researchers test their method by archiving one of the 19th century physicist Michael FaradaySeminal paper on electromagnetic and chemistry, as well as a JPEG image of Faraday.

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“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 this method.

Chris Snibe/Harvard Staff

There’s a good reason for all the interest in using DNA for data storage. As we mentioned earlier, DNA consists of four chemical building blocks—adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C)—that form a type of code. Information can be stored in DNA by converting the data from a binary code to a base-4 code and assigning it one of four letters. DNA has a significantly higher data density than conventional storage systems. A gram can represent approximately 1 billion terabytes (1 zettabyte) of data. And it’s a robust medium: Stored data can be preserved over long periods of time—decades, or even centuries.

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Significant advances have been made in DNA data storage in recent years, leading to some inventive tweaks to the original method. For example, two years ago, Stanford scientists successfully produced a 3D-printed version of the Stanford Bunny—a common test model in 3D computer graphics—that stored printing instructions to reproduce a rabbit. The rabbit holds about 100 kilobytes of data, thanks to the addition of nanobeads containing DNA to the plastic it is used to 3D print.

But using DNA also presents daunting challenges. For example, storing and retrieving data from DNA usually takes a significant amount of time, given all the necessary sequencing. And our ability to synthesize DNA still has a long way to go before it becomes a practical data-storage medium. Other scientists have therefore explored the possibility of using non-organic polymers for molecular data storage, decoding (or reading), stored information by sequencing the polymers with tandem mass spectrometry. However, the synthesis and purification of synthetic polymers is an expensive, complex and time-consuming process.

Nagarkar demonstrates small dye molecules used to store information.
Chris Snibe/Harvard Staff

Back in 2019, Whitesides Lab successfully displayed Storage of information in a commercially available mix oligopeptide On the metal surface, time-consuming and expensive synthesis techniques are not required. To read the stored information, the lab used a mass spectrometer to differentiate between the molecules by their molecular weights. But there were still some issues, especially the information was destroyed during the read. In addition, the read-out process was slow (10 bits per second), and reducing the size proved problematic, as a reduction in the size of the laser spot resulted in increased noise in the data.

So Nagarkar and others. decided to look into molecules that can be identified optically rather than by molecular weight. Specifically, they chose seven commercially available fluorescent dyes of various colors. To “write down” the information, the team used an inkjet printer to deposit solutions of mixed fluorescent dyes onto epoxy substrates containing certain reactive amino groups. The latter reaction forms stable amide bonds, effectively locking the information in place.

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