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Startup to commercialize terabyte discs

Businesses and consumers may soon have a cheaper, more manageable way to store large amounts of digital data, thanks to a university startup that aims to make optical films capable of holding 1 to 2 TB – or about 50 Blu-ray movies.

As an alternative to storing data on energy-wasting magnetic discs or cumbersome magnetic tapes, Folio Photonics will use optical technology first developed by the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Engineering to make an optical film with 64 data layers.

As an alternative to storing data on energy-wasting magnetic discs or cumbersome magnetic tapes, a startup will use optical technology first developed at Case Western Reserve University to make an optical film with 64 data layers. The photo shows fluorescence images of 23 figures recorded in the multilayer medium. The upper left is the topmost layer and the lower right, the bottom-most layer. Each square is 22-µm-sq. Darker areas indicate reduced fluorescence (false color).

“A disc will be on the capacity scale of magnetic tapes used for archival data storage,” said Kenneth D. Singer, the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve and co-founder of Folio Photonics. “But they’ll be substantially cheaper and have one advantage: You can access data faster. You just pop the disc in your computer, and you can find the data in seconds. Tapes can take minutes to wind through to locate particular data.”

To make the 64-data-layer film, Singer and graduate student Brent Valle spread a thick, puttylike flow of repeatedly divided and stacked polymers into a film and rolled onto a spool; they estimate they can make a square kilometer of film in 1 h. They then cut and paste film onto the same hard plastic base on which DVDs and Blu-rays are built. Slight adjustments to a standard disc reader are necessary to enable it to probe and read the data on each layer without interference from layers above or below, they say.

The researchers aren’t the only ones pursuing terabyte-storage discs, Singer said. Other companies are “looking into a holographic technology, which requires two lasers to write the data and will require a whole new writer/reader. Ours has the advantage of lower manufacturing costs and is more compatible with current readers and writers.”

Folio Photonics’ discs are aimed at storing data not often or instantaneously needed. This could be useful for pathologists who store not only slides of tissues, but also the digital images they make, which can be manipulated to gather more information about disease or damage.

The Cleveland-based startup is the third company to come out of the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems. The scientists hope to have prototype discs and readers to show within a year.

The research was published in Advanced Materials (doi: 10.1002/adma.201200669).

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