An unconventional technique could help shrink the amount of space current systems use for traditional data storage.

Chemists from Case Western Reserve University created a platform using polymer films that have two dye molecules, which can optically store data in quaternary code. This type of code differs from its binary counterpart because it uses symbols instead of numbers to represent information.

A test was conducted where the team loaded a small amount of the two dye molecules onto a flexible sheet of clear and colorless ambient light polymer film called PMMA.

One dye,  cyano-substituted oligo (p-phenyene vinylene), is able to fluoresce green from exposure to heat while the second dye, o-nitrobenzyl ester of benzoic acid, can fluoresce ultramarine when exposed to ultraviolet light. Exposing the overlapping dyes to both heat and UV rays makes them fluoresce cyan.

Next, the researchers produced the code by laying metal or wood templates over the dye-containing film and then applying heat and ultraviolet light. The length of the finished templates were 300 micrometers across with 200 micrometers between them. 

A litany of tests were then conducted, including writing on the templates with finished marker, submerging them in boiling water, and even rubbing the surface with sandpaper. The code remained durable throughout all tests.

"We're using chemistry instead of engineering to address data storage, but it's really complementary to what engineers are doing," said Emily Pentzer, assistant professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve and study author, in a statement.

Pentzer noted that this form of code could be easily replicated with the system used in this experiment.

More experiments will be conducted where the team will test specialized lasers aimed at shrinking the spatial resolution in an effort to increase data density.

The team will also explore if incorporating a third dye into the mixture can elicit responses to different stimuli and remain distinct from the other components.

Ultimately, this could allow the researchers to store data through a septenary allowing for further shrinking storage.

The study was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry C.