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"Sound Bytes" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Electrical engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use high- frequency sound waves to enhance the magnetic storage of data.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Acoustic treatment.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: retro 50s music) In the 1950s during the dawn of the computer era, you could store a whopping five megabytes on a disc drive that weighed one ton, cost todays equivalent of $160,000, and required a forklift and a transport plane to get around. Today, (Sound effect: keyboard sound) you can store 100,000 times that much data on many laptops. Now, engineers at Oregon State University have come up with a way to squeeze even more magnetic storage capacity into our devices.

(Sound effect: flame burst) If magnetic storage materials are temporarily heated--even for an instant--they become less stiff and allow for more data storage. But for numerous reasons, heating is impractical. The Oregon State team took a different approach--ultrasound. Direct these high frequency sound waves at a specific location while data are being stored, (Sound effect: cartoon bending sound) and that tiny area becomes elastic and bends or stretches, providing extra space for storage. Turn off the ultrasound, and the area returns to its original shape--reliably storing the extra data. (Sound effect: large metal door close)

The technology is called "acoustic-assisted magnetic recording." The engineers say it should allow for creating highly durable systems that store more data in less space, using less power.

A "sound" way to store more.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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