Using block copolymers that spontaneously assemble into patterns created by lithography, higher density and greater uniformity can be obtained when manufacturing data storage devices, according to research carried out at the University of Wisconsin, Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) [Ricardo et al., Science (2008) 321].

Arrays can be patterned to the molecular level and are able to correct inconsistencies resulting from the lithographic process, owing to the regular hexagonal formation of the molecular structure. The team was able to produce assembled structures with four times the density and half the size compared with chemically patterned surfaces. The method overcomes the limits experienced with traditional production methods alone, where the cost of further reducing size and maintaining quality may be prohibitively high and technologically difficult, offering time and cost benefits in manufacturing while increasing performance. University director, Paul Nealey explains, “There's information encoded in the molecules that results in getting certain size and spacing of features with certain desirable properties, thermodynamic driving forces make the structures more uniform in size and higher density than you can obtain with the traditional materials.”

The university collaborated with researchers from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies on the project, that promises manufacturing and product property advances for microchips as well as data storage devices, though hard disks offer more immediate potential because of the uniform nature of their architecture.