Since the dawn of time, man has tried to record important events and techniques
for everyday life. At first, it was sufficient to paint on the family cave wall
how one hunted. Then came the people who invented spoken languages and the need
arose to record what one was saying without hearing it firsthand. Therefore later,
more early scholars invented writing to convey what was being said. Pictures gave
way to letters that represented spoken sounds. Eventually clay tablets gave way
to parchment, which gave way to paper. Paper was, and still is, the main way people
convey information. However, in the mid twentieth century computers began to come
into general use . . .
Computers have gone through their own evolution in
storage media. In the forties, fifties, and sixties, everyone who took a computer
course used punched cards to give the computer information and store data. In
1956, researchers at IBM developed the first disk storage system. This was called
RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control)
the days of punch cards, computer manufacturers have strived to squeeze more data
into smaller spaces. That mission has produced both competing and complementary
data storage technology including electronic circuits, magnetic media like hard
disks and tape, and optical media such as compact disks.
The demands made
upon computers and computing devices are increasing each year. Processor speeds
are increasing at an extremely fast clip. However, the RAM used in most computers
is the same type of memory used several years ago. The limits of making RAM denser
are being reached. Surprisingly, these limits may be economical rather than physical.
A decrease by a factor of two in size will increase the cost of manufacturing
of semiconductor pieces by a factor of 5.
RAM is available in modules called SIMMs or DIMMS. These modules can be bought
in various capacities from a few hundred kilobytes of RAM to about 64 megabytes.
Anything more is both expensive and rare. These modules are generally 70ns, however
60ns and 100ns modules are available. The lower the nanosecond rating, the more
the module will cost. Currently, a 64MB DIMM costs over $400.
are 12cm by 3cm by 1cm or about 36 cubic centimeters. Whereas a 5 cubic centimeter
block of bacterio-rhodopsin studded polymer could theoretically store 512 gigabytes
of information. When this comparison is made, the advantage becomes quite clear.
Also, these bacterio-rhodopsin modules could also theoretically run 1000 times
In response to the demand for faster,
more compact, and more affordable memory storage devices, several viable alternatives
have appeared in recent years. Among the most promising approaches include memory
storage using holography, polymer-based memory, and our focus, protein-based memory.
The bacterio-rhodopsin protein is one of the most promising organic memory
materials. Seven helix-shaped polymers form a membrane structure, which contains
a molecule known as the retinal chromophor. The chromophor absorbs light of a
certain color and is therefore able to switch to another stable state in addition
to its original state. Only blue light can change the molecule back to its original
There have been many methods and
proteins researched for use in computer applications in recent years. However,
among the most promising approaches, and the focus of this particular web page,
is 3-Dimensional Optical RAM storage using the light sensitive protein bacterio-rhodopsin.
Bacterio-rhodopsin is a protein found in the purple membranes of several species
of bacteria, most notably Halobacterium halobium. This particular bacteria lives
in salt marshes. Salt marshes have very high salinity and temperatures can reach
140 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike most proteins, bacterio-rhodopsin does not break
down at these high temperatures.
research in the field of protein-based memories yielded some serious problems
with using proteins for practical computer applications. Among the most serious
of the problems was the instability and unreliable nature of proteins, which are
subject to thermal and photochemical degradation, making room-temperature or higher-temperature
use impossible. Largely through trial and error, and thanks in part to nature's
own natural selection process, scientists stumbled upon bacterio-rhodopsin, a
light-harvesting protein that has certain properties which makes it a prime candidate
for computer applications. While bacterio-rhodopsin can be used in any number
of schemes to store memory, we will focus our attention on the use of bacterio-rhodopsin
in 3-Dimensional Optical Memories.
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