Aston Uni developing 5nm surface channel storage technology

Aston University claims new polymer surface tech will increase storage capacity and prevent more mega datacenters being built.

The UK’s Aston University says its scientists are starting a two-year research program to tackle the global shortage of digital data storage. The university says that in the next three years the total amount of data in the world – the global datasphere – is predicted to increase by 300 percent. As datacenters account for around 1.5 percent of the world’s annual electricity usage, it has been recognized that building more huge warehouses is not sustainable.

Dr Matt Derry, Aston University
Dr Matt Derry

Lead scientist chemistry lecturer Dr Matt Derry said: “Simply building new datacenters without improving data storage technologies is not a viable solution. Increasingly we face the risk of a so-called data storage crunch and improved data storage solutions are imperative to keep up with the demands of the modern world.”

Good to know. The university, no doubt recognizing the vital importance of the problem, has awarded the research project £204,031 ($247,960) in funding. Derry works in the university’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and is working in collaboration with Specialist Computer Centres (SCC), the science facility Diamond Light Source, and Babeș-Bolyai University, Romania. 

He will be accompanied by Dr Amit Kumar Sarkar, a researcher in materials chemistry, who is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron science facility. It produces 32 beams of intense light, 10,000 times brighter than the Sun, 3GeV, in X-ray to far infrared wavelengths. These can be used to study an object’s structure, such as asteroid grains or protein molecules, and, we suppose, features of a surface.

Diamond Light Source is working with Aston University
Diamond Light Source synchroton building

Sarkar said: “I’m delighted to be joining Aston University to develop more efficient data storage technologies. We will be exploiting advanced polymer chemistry as a pathway to increase the amount of data that can be housed on storage media.”

The researched technology involves creating new surface channel features around 10,000 times smaller than a human hair which will be used to increase data space. This, the university’s announcement says, “will enable increased capacity in data storage devices to cope with the mind-blowing amount of data produced around the world each day.”

A human hair is about 70 microns (micrometers) thick, 70,000 nanometers. A surface channel 10,000 times smaller will measure 7 nanometers but the University says its scientists will develop channels less than 5 nanometers in width.

We don’t know the shape of such a channel or how data would be recorded in it – using magnetism, electrical resistance or light, for example. Nor do we have any idea of the inter-feature gap needed, nor latency, IO rates and endurance. We have asked the university about these points and when it replies we’ll update this story.

Sarkar thinks that “increasing the efficiency of existing technologies will significantly reduce the need for costly, environmentally damaging construction of new ‘mega datacenters’.”

The university says this research project has the potential to impact other technologies where performance relies on creating regular patterns on the nanometer scale, such as organic electronics for solar energy.


According to the ENGIE Group, the datacenter industry accounts for around 4 percent of global electricity consumption and 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.