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Increasing Data Density
Scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, are working on atomic force microscopy (AFM) technology that could provide 100 times or more the density, thereby permitting the continued increase in computer data storage capacity.  This AFM technology is related to other proximal probes, such as the scanning tunneling microscopes (STM), which can write and read atomic-scale surface features; charge storage in nitride-oxide-silicon (NOS) structures; read-only memory based on the scanning apertureless interference microscope (SIAM), and near-field optical storage based on solid immersion lenses (SIL).

Operating under normal temperature and atmospheric conditions, AFM could provide  the capability of writing and reading information at densities of  up to 300 gigabits per square inch.  This would represent a sharp increase over the 20-50 gigabits per square inch where stability problems are expected to be seen in conventional magnetic media.

Tiny Patterns
IBM Research’s  implementation of AFM data storage  technology involves imprinting data in patterns of extremely tiny pits and bumps on a spinning plastic disk.  By briefly heating the tip of a tiny AFM cantilever, which is in contact with the disk, data pits can be written as the tip presses into the suddenly softened plastic. The same cantilever, which is about 10 microns long with a tip about 40 Angstroms in radius  (an Angstrom is approximately the radius of an atom), can also read back the pits. It's actually like a high-tech, high-density digital form of a phonograph, which played music as its needle-like stylus vibrated within a spiral groove on its plastic disk.  AFM disks can be written once , or a master disk can be replicated like a very high density CD-ROM.

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