The Stack Archive

Sound waves provide answer to fast, reliable data storage

Wed 4 Nov 2015

A group of scientists has discovered a method of using sound waves to improve the efficiency and performance of data storage. The research team found that large amounts of data could be transferred by modulating the sound waves – an effect which they hope could improve loading times and reduce power consumption.

Published in the Applied Physics Letter journal, the study, titled A sound idea: Manipulating domain walls in magnetic nanowires using surface acoustic waves, outlines the idea of employing surface acoustic waves (SAW) to move data and altering the rate of data transfer by regulating the pitch of the sound. SAW has already been harnessed for use in other areas of electronics and engineering, but this is the first time the technology has been applied to data storage.

The researchers propose the method as a more efficient storage option to magnetic hard disk drives which are restricted in speed by their moving parts. They suggest that it could also replace current SSD technology which quickly becomes unreliable, is expensive and runs relatively slowly in comparison to other modern computer parts – limiting overall speed.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 16.03.21The sound waves memory alternative, developed by Dr Tom Hayward from the University of Sheffield and Professor John Cunningham of the University of Leeds, builds on experimental racetrack memory that uses tiny magnetic wires to move magnetic ‘bits’ of data. Current racetrack research uses magnetic fields and electric currents to transfer the data bits along the wires. However, these methods typically generate waste heat and reduce power efficiency which would restrict battery life, increase energy bills and CO2 emissions.

Like the most destructive type of seismic wave produced by an earthquake, the research uses SAWs, in this case generated by a pair of transducers, fed across a surface of racetrack memory units in opposite directions. Where the sound waves join, a standing acoustic wave is created and this is then used to isolate and manipulate the arrays.

Hayward described the key advantage of the technology as its ability to travel several centimetres without decaying – a huge distance at nano-scale. ‘Because of this, we think a single sound wave could be used to ‘sing’ to large numbers of nanowires simultaneously, enabling us to move a lot of data using very little power,’ he added.

The duo concluded that they are now aiming to create prototype devices in order to fully test the concept.


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