The world's first hard disk based on silk protein developed

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The world's first hard disk based on silk protein was created by Tao Hu's research group from Shanghai Institute of Microsystems of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in collaboration with relevant research groups of the Stony Brook University of New York and the University of Texas at Austin.

The relevant paper was published on August 10 in the international journal Nature Nanotechnology, and the technology had been patented.

For many people, silk is used to make clothes; but for scientists, this traditional material can be implanted into the body of living beings as a new high-tech material to store information.  

The silk drive takes advantages of properties of silk fibroin, which is renowned for its strength and biocompatibility, and applies near-field infrared nanolithography (NIN) to write the digital data. 

The specific principle goes like this: based upon the silk protein's selective absorption of infrared light, NIN is utilized to process high density lattice on the fibroin membrane to write the digital information and then read the information through lattice imaging. So far, the team has used this new technology to verify the principles of accurate recording, storing and read-out of the painting "Silkworms Eating Mulberry Leaves" and the melody "Bird Singing in the Void Valley," among others.

Thanks to the characteristics of the silk fibroin and the technology of high-precision near-field fast writing and reading, this new type of hard disk has many advantages. 

It has a large storage capacity to save binary digital information and biological information directly related to life activities simultaneously, supports repeated in-situ erasing and writing, and is controllable to degrade in a preset time. Additionally, it can work stably for a long time under harsh environments with high humidity, high electromagnetic field intensity, strong radiation, and the like.

"Equivalent to a nameplate of humanity for a long time and a 'time capsule' with a controllable lifespan, the silk protein disk is expected to replicate and preserve digital and life information under extreme conditions, such as in outer space," said Tao. It is hoped that the storage technology may be applied to life exploration in outer space in the future, Tao added.

"Compared with the traditional UV lithography and electron beam lithography technologies, near-field optical technique based on atomic force microscope (AFM) has made it possible for the nanoscale in-situ processing and characterization of biological materials. The infrared light is focused by the nanoprobes on a tiny scale to modify the fibroin so as to realize information storing and reading. In the later stage, combined with the multi-probe parallel processing technology and fast mobile platforms, the storage density and reading-writing speed of the new disk have the potential to become comparable to those of commercial hard disks," said Liu Mengkun, a professor at Stony Brook University of New York and a co-corresponding author of the paper.

Content in partnership with Science and Technology Daily

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