Engineers create fingernail-sized chip that holds 1TB of data

The process also shows promise for boosting vehicles' fuel economy

Engineers have created a new fingernail-sized chip that can hold one-trillion bytes (a terabyte) of data - 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."

The team of engineers was led by Jagdish "Jay" Narayan, director of the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures at the university.

The engineers made their breakthrough using the process of selective doping, in which an impurity is added to a material that changes its properties.

Working at the nano-scale level, 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 to 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.

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