Computer components shrinking faster than predicted
Using 3-nanometre magnets, an array could store 10 terabits (roughly 270 standard DVDs) per square inch, says Russell, who is now working to perfect magnets small enough to cram 100 terabits into a square inch.
"Currently, industry is working at half a terabit [per square inch]," he says. "They wanted to be at 10 terabits in a few years' time - we have leapfrogged that target."
Sebastien Lecommandoux who researches self-assembling nanotechnologies at the University of Bordeaux, France, is impressed. "The work described can, I believe, bring a real breakthrough in high-capacity storage devices."
The smallest features in current silicon transistors are 45 nanometres in size, but the latest made by Jeremy Levy at the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues have features just 2 nanometers in size, allowing many more transistors to be crammed into the same area.
Rather than building them from silicon, the team used two different forms of the common mineral perovskite. When two of the insulating crystals of the right thickness are held together, the place where they meet can conduct electricity. But if one of the pieces is too thin, then current will not flow.
Working with wafers that were just too thin to conduct, Levy's team found that they could "draw" conducting patches onto the crystal using a microscopic needle. A positive voltage from the needle rearranges the crystal's atoms to create lines 2 nm across that conduct like electrical wire.