LENS Engineering, Science, and Technology

Flashy Coding

Dyes May Double Data Storage Capacity

Case Western Reserve researchers are developing a way to potentially use uorescent dyes to double storage capacity in computers, smartphones and other digital devices.

That's a tantalizing prospect at a time when the amount of data we generate and collect expands at a dizzying pace.

Currently, most data get stored using a binary code, meaning two symbols—typically the numerals 0 and 1, or black and white—to represent information.

But Emily Pentzer, PhD, an assistant chemistry professor at the university, said her team is developing a way to store data optically in a quaternary (four-symbol) code of 0s, 1s, 2s and 3s (black, green, blue and neon blue) that potentially could require about half as much space to store the same amount of data.

Team members discovered they could combine a dye that glowed deep blue under ultraviolet light with a dye that glowed green when stimulated by heat. When stimulated together, they produce neon blue fluorescence. And when combined without stimulation, they become colorless.

Now the researchers are working to develop a system that would embed molecules from the dyes (three colors and the absence of color) into a lightweight polymer lm that's similar to the information-storing coating atop a CD. The molecules would store data written with light and/or heat.

Pentzer's team described the discovery and its possibilities in June in Journal of Materials Chemistry C.

Challenges remain. But Pentzer believes the team will create the quaternary code and she's already looking ahead to developing a septenary (seven-symbol) code as well. It's a new frontier in a eld that traditionally used engineering—not chemistry—to gain space.

"The system will be complementary to what's existing now, but it will open many new avenues," Pentzer said. "If we have more letters to write with, then we are able to do more data in the same amount of space."

—Jenni Laidman