Dr. Jeffery Rack, a physical chemist and professor at the University of New Mexico, has figured out a way to build synthetic molecules that has the potential to revolutionize data storage technology for generations to come.
Unlike data written on synthetic DNA, Dr. Rack’s molecules can be used to develop three-dimensional holographic information storage, a new kind of storage technology that requires not only chemistry know-how but also optical physics for proper implementation and testing.
“We are hoping that by using these existing non-linear optical spectroscopic techniques, that we can combine them with molecules and materials that we’re making in our labs and create new photorefractive materials,” Rack said.
Rack leads the project at UNM with the help of graduate, undergraduate and postdoctoral students. The photorefractive materials utilized by the research team for the data storage are composed of substances that undergo a particular change in their refractive index when exposed to light. This technology is already used in Blu-Ray discs and CDs to store information.
The technology being developed by Professor Rack and his team would be a more modern and enhanced spin on this same method of data storage; the molecules could be applied to the back of a polycarbonate disc and then an optical laser could be applied to reveal a holographic third dimension of that disc. This holographic layer enables for the storage capacity of the disk to be increased by a factor of 1,000 i.e. a DVD that usually holds 5 gigabits would be able t hold 5,000 gigabits of data without having to increase in size.
While Rack and his team have already figured out how to create this new class of photochromic materials with photorefractive properties, the’re still working on how to make these molecules easier to work with.
“We know how to make the molecules, we know how to make the measurement, but we need to get the molecules into some polymeric material which is easy to process and easy to manipulate,” explained Rack.
Considering that Rack and his team may soon be operating out of the proposed Physics, Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science (PAIS) facility to be constructed in the Albuquerque water reservoir, they could soon have state-of-the-art research options to help them out with this goal.
Rack is one of the main proponents of PAIS’ construction, stating that its existence and the associated focus on interdisciplinary science would be of huge benefit for his project as it would allow him and his team to work in close proximity with researches from different departments, including physics.
“PAIS would be a great development for this project,” Rack stated. “The facility would house optical physicists who could help me make these measurements better, as well as a variety of other researchers who would add other expertise to this research and many more projects.”
Rack also has speculated that the creation of the center could lead to major funding developments for his project and the university as a whole, plus it would attract more students seeking out an inter-disciplinary science-related education.
“I think the better we are at advertising these collaborative efforts, the more students are going to want to come here,” Rack offered. “Students understand that the more skills they have, the more understanding they have, the better prepared they’ll be for the job market.”
Rack is also excited for the prospective lab space:
“Not only will we have the infrastructure to collect really nice data but we will be in an environment where we can run into people who are working on similar and related problems… And for students that will be a real benefit because it gives them a chance to learn from other students.”
The facility would cost over $65 million to create and would become the largest building on main campus.