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Subject: HD-ROM


From: Robert J. Milevski <milevski>
Date: Monday, July 17, 1995
The following appeared in HPCWire is reproduced here with

    LANL Ion Beam Storage Holds 180 Times More Info Than CD-ROMS
    Science & Engineering News
    June 23

    Los Alamos, N.M.--Four sets of encyclopedias could fit on an
    inch-long steel pin using a new information storage technique
    invented at Los Alamos National Laboratory. And future
    civilizations should be able to read the information etched onto
    the pins 5,000 years from now, without interpretive devices that
    convert computer data into language or pictures.

    The High-Density Read-Only Memory, or HD-ROM, uses a unique ion
    beam to inscribe information on pins of stainless steel, iridium
    or other materials that are built to last. An HD-ROM holds about
    180 times more information than a comparably sized Compact Disc
    Read-Only Memory, or CD-ROM, today's cheapest data storage
    medium. Storage costs of HD-ROM are roughly one-half percent of
    CD-ROM costs.

    The HD-ROM should find immediate application in archival storage
    and data-intensive supercomputing, said developers Bruce
    Lamartine, a physical chemist in Los Alamos' Materials Science
    and Technology Division and Roger Stutz, a database and graphics
    engineer in the Nonproliferation and International Security
    Division. Other potential data storage uses are land and bank
    records, maps of oil deposits and seismic characteristics,
    surveillance maps for defense, astrophysical catalogs, other
    scientific data, audio and video masters and important cultural

    "The HD-ROM marks a complete departure from existing data
    storage technologies," Stutz said. "For the first time, a
    non-magnetic, non-optical data storage system can be made from
    truly robust materials."

    HD-ROM materials are hard, non-malleable, non-flammable and
    don't react easily with chemicals. Since the medium isn't
    magnetic, electromagnetic fields can't destroy the data on
    HD-ROMs, unlike computer hard drives. Information is written
    into the HD-ROM using a specially modified, focused ion beam
    micromill developed by Lamartine. The writing process, called
    sputter etching, removes material by atomic collisions in the
    region of the ion beam.

    The Los Alamos process is unique because the ultrahigh vacuum
    environment--about as empty as outer space--is the key to high
    data density. Data are not smeared as is the case when writing
    at higher pressures. The device routinely writes features as
    narrow as 150 billionths of a meter, a distance equal to about
    560 atoms.

    A computer controls the ion beam micromill, much like a
    dot-matrix printer. It can etch binary features, such as those
    written on CD-ROM and other computer data media, as well as
    letters, numbers or graphical images. These varied formats can
    coexist on the same HD-ROM.

    While writing is done in a vacuum, the reading can be done in
    air. A souped-up version of a commercially available atomic
    force microscope reads the inscribed data. Interpreting the data
    is another concern. Computer data come in the form of a stream
    of binary values expressed as tiny magnetic domains on a
    computer disk, or as aberrations in the shape of the grooves on

    "Interpreting computer data visually is as difficult as
    understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs without the Rosetta Stone,"
    Stutz said.

    To interpret this unformatted, unpunctuated stream, the reader
    needs embedded protocol information that provides a code for the
    stream of bits. This bit-stream interpreter resident in magnetic
    storage media is today's equivalent of the Rosetta Stone, Stutz

    The HD-ROM requires no bit-stream interpreter. For binary data,
    the HD-ROM can describe in a human-readable format the
    instructions needed to read the data. For letters, numbers or
    graphics, the reader can recover visually apparent characters

    "Recent articles have predicted that in 10 years, commercial
    magnetic media may be able to store as much as five billion bits
    of information on a square inch," Lamartine said. "HD-ROM
    technology already has demonstrated storage nearly five times as
    large, and densities of 400 trillion bits per square inch are

    The advent of digital records was a momentous discovery because
    huge amounts of information could now be stored in tiny spaces.
    But digital storage media are much more vulnerable than stone
    tablets or even printed documents. Magnetic fields, oxidation,
    materials decay and various environmental factors can erase
    digital information.

    "HD-ROM is virtually impervious to the ravages of time whether
    from material degradation due to thermal or mechanical shock or
    from the electromagnetic fields that are so destructive to other
    storage media," Lamartine said.

    The high cost of storage forces many organizations to discard
    valuable data. Stutz said NASA often is forced to get rid of
    satellite data and images that aren't immediately useful, even
    though the information might be of great future value. Among
    other organizations that would benefit from a low-cost, highly
    durable data-storage medium are the Federal Bureau of
    Investigation, the Library of Congress, astrophysics agencies
    and financial institutions.

    Stutz said the technology ought to be in pictures. In fact, he
    and Lamartine already have talked to film industry
    representatives about how to use the ion beam writer to preserve
    movies from Hollywood's golden age.

    Lamartine and Stutz have applied for patents on the HD-ROM, the
    ion beam micromill, the process of micromilling and their method
    for speeding up the rate at which the etched information can be
    read. They are actively seeking commercial partners who want to
    turn their invention into a product.

    For more information, contact Jim Danneskiold of Los Alamos
    National Laboratory at 505/667-1640, 667-7000 or
    <slinger [at] lanl__gov>.


                  H P C w i r e   S P O N S O R S
   Product specifications and company information in this section
       are available to both subscribers and non-subscribers.

    912) Avalon Computer       915) Genias Software
    934) Convex Computer Corp. 930) HNSX Supercomputers
    921) Cray Research Inc.    902) IBM Corp.
    907) Digital Equipment.    904) Intel Corp.
    909) Fujitsu America       916) MasPar Computer

    906) nCUBE
    932) Portland Group
    935) Silicon Graphics

    Copyright 1995 HPCwire.
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                  Conservation DistList Instance 9:12
                   Distributed: Friday, July 21, 1995
                        Message Id: cdl-9-12-003
Received on Monday, 17 July, 1995

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