Jim Bain: Information Storage Technology


My name is Jim Bain. I’m a Professor of Electrical and Computer
Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. And I also serve as the Associate Director
of the Data Storage Systems Center here. My research focuses on information storage
technology, the physical systems which store information. Very small devices with interesting magnetic
and electrical properties that are used to actually encode the ones and zeroes, that
make up the binary information that is all over our phones and in the cloud and so forth. Our society has developed a huge hunger for
digital information. Photographs, e-mail, and business, geological
information. I mean, it’s everywhere. People estimate that the entire information
universe as they like to call it, consists of about somewhere between five and 10 xedobytes
of information. Right now, if you took all of those pieces
of information and packed them at the density we can pack them at, they would take up areas
somewhere between the size of Manhattan and the size of New Jersey. So shrinking these things allows us to have
room for them, allows us to manage the power they consume. The kinds of things we do in this lab, we
look at the physical phenomena that are used to store information and try to find new phenomena
that we can use, phenomena that will be lower power, higher density, allow us to make devices
smaller, allow us to make them last longer, and generally, how do we shrink the system,
and how does your iPhone have eight gigabytes of storage today, and have 64 gigabytes of
storage tomorrow, and a terabyte of storage at some point in the future, so that you have
a whole bunch of movies right on your iPhone. You can’t just make things smaller and expect
them to work the same way. So we have to either fix the problems that
happen as a result of them being smaller, or when making them smaller and smaller, makes
them just not work anymore, we have to find a new physical process. So there’s a couple of examples of how you
might see this research emerge into the world. One of the projects we’re working on is called
Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording. And that takes traditional magnetic recording
and adds to it this thing we call Heat Assist. It’s actually bringing a laser to shine on
the surface of the disk. Like in addition to all of the other magnetic
fields and so forth that are used to do the recording. One of the ways we do that is we use these
things called Plasmonic Structures. We guide light…instead of guiding light
like you would guide with say an optical fiber, or with a mirror, or with a lens, you can
guide them with very small structures of metal, pieces of gold. Little tiny gold wires that are only maybe
100 atoms in diameter. And we use these structures to guide light
to the surface of a hard disk drive. Things get very hot for one or two nanoseconds
and cool down again, and that assists in the recording process. Probably that reaches commercialization in
the next few years. But it’s been the subject of sort of basic
research since about 2000, when people identified that without it, without this energy assist
that is heating, they would not be able to record at densities above…about where conventional
disc drives are. So there’s real kind of impact from this work,
but there’s also some really neat science that goes on and understanding the fundamentals
of these nano scale devices.

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