Graphene can increase the amount of data stored on hard drives by a factor of 10

Using the wonder material graphene, a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has made a huge advance in data storage. The new design opens up higher operating temperatures for hard disk drives (HDDs) and with it unprecedented data density, which the team says represents a tenfold increase in current technology.

In a hard disk, data is written to a rapidly rotating disk by a moving magnetic head. These discs are protected from mechanical damage and corrosion by a special coating called a carbon-based outer coating (COCS), although these can only be performed over a certain temperature range and take up a large amount of space.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge were able to replace the CoC used in commercial hard drives with one to four layers of graphene, a single layer of carbon-atom material that offers incredible strength and flexibility, among other high-value properties. Graphene's thinness allows for significant space savings and is superior to current COC in preventing mechanical wear, with a corrosion rate of two-fifths and a friction force of one-half.

But the most promising thing is that the addition of graphene layers raises the operating temperature of the hard drive. That's because it enabled the team to use an advanced writing technique called thermally assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which heats up the recording layer to much higher temperatures, making the bits smaller and more tightly packed together while remaining stable.

HAMR is not compatible with today's COC, but the wonder material graphene can withstand heat. This, combined with the space savings, has resulted in what scientists say is unprecedented data density, 10 megabytes per square inch, a tenfold increase over today's solutions. Professor Anna Ott, from the Cambridge Graphene Centre, said: "It is a very important result to show that graphene can be used as a protective layer on traditional hard disks and can withstand HAMR conditions. This will further drive the development of new types of high-acreage density hard drives.