A multinational team of scientists have discovered a new method to store data magnetically that is hundreds of times faster than current hard drives are capable of. Data is stored on a traditional spinning hard drive by applying an external magnetic field that inverts the polarity on the media (representing a zero or a one), thus recording a single bit each time the external field is introduced.

The new method demonstrated by the research team uses a laser that fires for 1/10,000 of a nanosecond and generates enough heat to successfully change the polarity on the media. Dr. Alexey Kimel from the Institute of Molecules and Materials noted that for centuries, it was believed that heat could only destroy the magnetic order but now it has been proven to be a sufficient stimulus for recording information on a magnetic medium.

researchers hard drive magnetic heat

The Register points out that using a laser in this manner isn’t entirely new as TDK has been a using heat-assisted magnetic recording system in a similar way, although the new technique is much faster than any competing technology.

The end result is the ability to record terabytes of data per second and because there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumed.

The technology is still a long way from commercialization, however. The results were so unexpected that even the scientists who discovered the method aren’t entirely sure how or why it works. It will also be a challenge to embed a powerful enough laser onto a read head of a hard drive without drawing too much power, says ZDNET.

The team’s findings have been published in the February edition of Nature Communications.