AtomICs, a data storage and computing startup led by university researchers, won the $25,000 first prize at the 2022 Brown Venture Prize competition, The Herald previously reported. AtomICs is the first PhD student and faculty team to win a Brown Venture Prize and is led by Dana Biechele-Speziale GS, Former Herald Columnist Selahaddin Gumus GS, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brenda Rubenstein ’07 and Associate Professor of Engineering Jacob Rosenstein’ 05.
To “revoke the way we store and process digital data,” AtomICs aims to “develop new ways to use molecules to transport information” to solve the growing need for data storage, Biechele-Speziale and Gumus wrote in an e-mail. mail to The Herald.
Rubenstein’s chemistry lab and Rosenstein’s engineering lab have previously collaborated on research at the intersection of molecular science and data. Rubenstein and Rosenstein have recruited Beichele-Speziale and Gumus to help commercialize the molecular data storage technology to “scale up and bring this revolutionary technology to market,” Beichele-Speziale and Gumus wrote.
Biechele-Speziale and Gumus pointed to the limitations of current data storage methods as motivation for their research.
“Data centers are struggling to keep up with our explosive data creation,” they wrote. Currently, information is stored in solid-state drives that use transistors, which require chip-grade silicon, she added.
As a result, “before 2040, the demand for microchip-grade silicon will be 10 to 100 times global supply, leaving the data storage industry facing a huge demand and supply challenge,” they wrote.
These transistors also produce a “huge amount of heat, and to keep the data cool, data centers around the world use more electricity per year” than some countries, she added. This cooling process also uses large amounts of water.
Given the already compact dimensions of modern transistors, “conventional technology struggles to make data storage more dense,” Beichele-Speziale and Gumus wrote. AtomICs utilize “small molecules to enable denser, more durable and longer storage of room temperature data compared to conventional and current DNA-based competitors,” she added.
AtomICs has obtained a patent for their information storage process, which uses molecules to store image data. A mass spectrometer identifies whether a molecule is present or absent in a chemical solution to create a binary code. “From here on, we use new artificial intelligence to interpret these spectra and read out our image,” Beichele-Speziale and Gumus wrote.
“In previous demonstrations, we’ve been able to show that we can store many megabytes of images in molecules,” Rubenstein said. With the venture award funding, “our first goal will be to scale that up to the terabyte regime and then demonstrate that it’s more energy efficient and also cheaper than comparable storage technologies.”
“After the first round of storage… we will continue to look at how we can actually calculate using molecules,” Rosenstein added. Achieving calculations would involve finding a way to “create molecular circuits in a soft system,” which is biological systems or robotic systems made of flexible materials.
In the long run, “we want to realize a very compact, very energy-efficient way to store information in molecules,” Rubenstein said. Ultimately, the goal of AtomICs is to “develop more in-situ molecular computation capabilities,” she added.
“We are very grateful for the support Brown has given us,” added Rubenstein. In addition to providing funding for the project, the university facilitated collaboration between different departments to make the project possible, she added.
“We hope Brown will continue to encourage the idea that scientists are great entrepreneurs,” Beichele-Speziale and Gumus wrote.