Diamonds offer key to storage forever

Engineers working at John Hopkins University are using diamonds to change the properties of an alloy used in phase-change memory.

The move could lead to the development of higher capacity storage systems that retain data more quickly and last longer than current media. It also means that your computer might start getting a taste for the finer things in life.

According to the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the changes to phase-change memory could be a lot cheaper thanks to an inexpensive alloy that’s composed of germanium, arsenic and tellurium.

The study’s lead author, Ming Xu, said the phase-change memory is more stable than the material used in current flash drives. It works 100 times faster and is rewritable millions of times.

He thinks that within about five years, it could also be used to replace hard drives in computers and give them more memory.

The researchers used diamond-tipped tools to apply pressure to the GST. This enabled them to change the properties of the alloy from an amorphous to a crystalline state and thus reduce the electrical resistivity by about four times.

By slowing down the change from an amorphous state to a crystalline state, the scientists produced many varying states allowing more data to be stored on the alloy.

While GST has been used for some time, the precise mechanics of its ability to switch from one state to another have befuddled scientists.

Xu used the pressure from diamond tools to cause the change to occur more slowly so they could watch it happening and figure out how to improve it all.

Using X-ray diffraction, along with a computer simulation, they could record the changes in “slow motion.” As a result they found they could tune the electrical resistivity of the material during the time between its change from amorphous to crystalline form, the paper said..