Newswise — "The next generation of consumer electronics hinges on even smaller and higher density hard drives," says condensed-matter physicist Johan van Lierop of the University of Manitoba.

He notes that a recent announcement by Fujitsu revealed new technology that could allow recording elements hundreds of times thinner than a human hair — the "nanoscale." This could theoretically make a hard drive capable of about 155 gigabytes (GB) per square centimeter, far beyond the capacity of the iPod in your pocket today.

van Lierop and his collaborators are working to push the miniaturization limit on materials used in hard drive technology. They're aiming for "terabit" devices that can hold an astounding amount of information thanks to a phenomenon known as "exchange bias" in a thin film of material.

van Lierop explains: "The largest current disk capacity on MP3 players is about 80 GB, representing around 20,000 songs worth of storage. Our work may help companies like Fujitsu develop components for an iPod that could hold 125,000 songs or around 500 GB of data"

Improvements in recording material development are central to future technology. van Lierop says that understanding the physical mechanisms behind nanomagnetism in exchange bias is essential to the successful development of new magnetic-media-based devices.

van Lierop is part of an international collaboration of researchers that has discovered a new thin-film material which provides insights into the development and operation of such material. By using a combination of magnetic, structural and compositional tools that probe at resolutions much smaller than previously imagined, they have uncovered the origins of the unusual magnetism in exchange biased thin-film systems, and may help make possible the further miniaturization of computer electronics.

He notes: "To push these limits of scale in the high-tech game, you now really need to know and understand the physical mechanisms at the nanoscale that you're using for device applications. That's where our real work comes in."

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