Future of hard drives: uranium?

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — A new molecule containing two uranium atoms maintains its magnetism when kept at a low temperature. The discovery is a potential step closer to high-performance computing.

This type of single-molecule magnet (SMM) has the potential to increase data storage capacity by many hundreds, even thousands of times—as a result huge volumes of data could be stored in tiny places.

“This work is exciting because it suggests a new way of generating SMM behavior and it shines a light on poorly understood uranium phenomena,” says chemist Steve Liddle of the University of Nottingham, who created the molecule. “It could help point the way to making scientific advances with more technologically amenable metals such as the lanthanides. The challenge now is to see if we can build bigger clusters to improve the blocking temperatures and apply this more generally.”

Computer hard discs are made up of magnetic material that record digital signals. The smaller you can make these tiny magnets the more information you can store.

Model of the new molecule. (Credit: Stephen Liddle)

Although it may have somewhat negative PR it seems depleted uranium—a by-product from uranium enrichment and of no use in nuclear applications because the radioactive component has been removed—could now hold some of the key to the research. Liddle has shown that by linking more than one uranium atom together via a bridging toluene molecule SMM behavior is exhibited. The work is reported in the journal Nature Chemistry.

“At this stage it is too early to say where this research might lead, but single-molecule magnets have been the subject of intense study because of their potential applications to make a step change in data storage capacity and realize high-performance computing techniques such as quantum information processing and spintronics.

“The inherent properties of uranium place it between popularly researched transition and lanthanide metals and this means it has the best of both worlds. It is therefore an attractive candidate for SMM chemistry, but this has never been realized in polymetallic systems, which is necessary to make them work at room temperature.”

More news from the University of Nottingham:

chat20 Comments


  1. Francisco Aguilar

    Not even a good joke.

  2. Jesse

    Unfortunately, the drive would fail on average after 1e-17 seconds.

  3. Omegageek

    Basic bone-head error. Depleted Uranium is still very radioactive. All those alpha particles will play hell with the electronics needed to read and write data to the drive.

  4. Volcanek

    Love it! Until the cooling fails and you lose a TB of harddrive data!!

  5. Jeff

    If it is heavier than air, it will never fly. (The Wright brothers inadvertently overlooked this well-known law of known science.)

  6. Dennis

    If you watch the video, the guys are saying that this is a good piece of science which could be used by other scientists as a stepping stone to future solutions. No-one is really suggesting a uranium hard drive!

  7. Oscar

    Awesome, let’s make it happen. I could use more computing power!

  8. Robert Ludwig

    So the problems I see are:

    1) As the Uranium decays your storage device gradually loses its data and introduces errors.

    2) If you lose temperature control for an instant you lose all your data.

    3) Maintaining extremely low temperatures is very expensive.

    It’s an interesting concept and demonstrates the idea of reducing the magnetic domains to a single molecule, but it won’t be practical until they can achieve this with stable elements and at reasonable temperatures (like room).

  9. Dwayne J. Baldwin

    “The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

  10. Karim

    Great idea, as long as your UPS doesn’t fail, shutting down the PC’s cooling system and causing a Level 7 Incident meltdown in your home office…

    I can see Maxtor’s promotion: Each 500 TB Uranium hard-drive comes with its own Biohazard suit (one size fits all). Or Seagate: One free 12″ thick lead laptop case with each ura-drive purchase.

    Of course, here in North America we’d have to add it to the terror-related watched substances list (like fertilizer) and check out anyone who purchases several hundred drives at one time to get the uranium.

  11. Br.Bill

    We can now store our data in the cloud. The mushroom cloud.

  12. Cen-Sin

    One of these is off the charts: stupidity or sarcasm. Your uranium-based storage would be more likey to be destroyed by cosmic rays before rotting to the point of losing your data. For any given sample of U-238, it takes 1,000,000 years to decay to 99.984% of the original amount. Assuming there is generous error correction built into these devices (which we have for current devices as well), even losing 7% of what physically makes up the disk would be tolerable, and that will take 460,699,999 years. As for the temperature problem, that really depends on the usage scenario like devices that are intentionally being used in the “cold” temperature range such as in outer space. If I dropped any of your consumer electronics into a volcano, I’ll bet you wouldn’t call it the device’s problem as it was never designed to operate in that temperature range.

  13. johhn

    Dangerously stupid idea. This is WMD!

  14. Gary R

    The 2 Uraniums in the molecule may be replaced by atomic clusters (super atoms) which mimic Uranium properties without being radioactive.

  15. Jeremy

    mispronunciation of the compound. bad job.. wanna be scientist.

  16. Cek magdurlari

    I wish HDD’s would just die. the more of us who use SDD’s the fater R&D will move and the better our computing standards will be in no time. This is like introducing hybrid cars to solve th gas crisis when we have electric cars for sale that are a millions of timesbetter.

  17. RipX

    this says depleted Uranium is NOT radioactive any longer.

  18. Aaron

    Cen-Sin has a well thought out comment…

    Many of the people commenting here seem to be adding nothing to the conversation… just mindless uneducated hype in a argumentative manner: Jesse, Omegageek, Karim, johhn, Jeremy

  19. anonnumber1

    how many people here have doctorates? in chemistry or even computer engineering at that? most likely none of you… so stop acting like you know shit.. this is a stepping stone for science and can LEAD to better storage letting you all be better trolls…. though as they say

    haters gonna hate


    I agree with the others…that would be extremely dangerous!

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