The next information revolution?

Papyrus. The printing press. Digital silicates. Are nano-ceramics next?

Engineers have created a material that could hold a trillion bytes (a terabyte) of data in a chip the size of a fingernail — 50 times the capacity of today’s best silicon-based chip technologies.

The engineers, from North Carolina State University, said their nanostructured Ni-MgO system can store up to 20 high-definition DVDs or 250 million pages of text, “far exceeding the storage capacities of today’s computer memory systems.”

Working at the nanoscale, the engineers added metal nickel to magnesium oxide, a ceramic. The resulting material contained clusters of nickel atoms no bigger than 10 square nanometers — a pinhead has a diameter of 1 million nanometers. The discovery represents a 90% size reduction compared with today’s techniques, and an advancement that could boost computer storage capacity.

“Instead of making a chip that stores 20 gigabytes, you have one that can handle one terabyte, or 50 times more data,” Narayan said in a press release.

The process also shows promise for boosting vehicles’ fuel economy and reducing heat produced by semiconductors, a potentially important development for more efficient energy production.

By using the process of selective doping, the engineers could introduce metallic properties into ceramics, Narayan said. The process would allow them to develop a new generation of ceramic engines able to withstand twice the temperatures of normal engines. The engines could potentially achieve fuel economy of 80 miles per gallon, Narayan said.

If that went over anyone’s heads, here’s an instructive video in which U.C. Berkeley student Glory Liu explains nanotechnology, with help from her puppet friends:

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