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Composite image of Cat image stored in metabolites and original artwork of Cat Killing a Serpent

A painting of a cat (right) was stored in digital form in chemical spots, which could be ‘read’ to reconstruct the image (left). Credit: Left:Eamonn Kennedy/Chris Arcadia/Brown University Right:Charles K. Wilkinson/Rogers Fund

Information technology

A ‘molecular thumb drive’ stores big files in small droplets

Information is encoded in spots made of assorted substances.

Droplets of small molecules such as amino acids and sugars hold promise as a highly efficient data-storage system.

To cope with the breakneck pace of digital-data generation, researchers have eyed DNA-based storage systems, which might store information more densely than traditional semiconductor chips. But droplets of even smaller molecules offer another option, according to work by Jacob Rosenstein and his colleagues at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

The researchers fed a digital image file — coded as a pattern of ones and zeroes — to a liquid-spraying robot, which translated this pattern onto a steel plate as a grid of droplets containing mixtures of these molecules. Within each droplet, the addition or exclusion of each substance represented a one or zero, respectively, from the original image file. Once the droplets dried, an instrument recovered the image’s digital code of ones and zeroes by analysing the chemicals at each of the thousands of positions in the grid.

The researchers encoded and retrieved images up to several kilobytes in size.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.


A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty


Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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