What do you think of when you think of technology, computing, data storage, and all that goes with it?

We live in a world of hard drives and solid-state technology, all silicon-and-copper based.

But what if that all changed?

Researchers at the University of Michigan and New York University have demonstrated that nanoparticles of plastic placed in a liquid, can form a one-bit cluster. Essentially, computing is based on these ‘bits’: one ‘bit’ holds either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ state, and the patterns of millions upon millions of these 1s and 0s are how we define and store data.

Check out their simulation below:

(In case you were wondering about the actual numbers: there are 8 bits in a byte, so there are 8,000 bits in a kilobyte, 8,000,000 bits in a megabyte, and so on.)

So why is creating one tiny bit so important?

Well, a one-bit cluster is just the starting point. A four-particle cluster has just the usual two states, the 1 and the 0. But, as the researchers showed in the simulation, a 12-particle cluster could have close to 8 million unique states, the equivalent of 2.86 bytes of data.

Not very much data storage, I hear you say? True – but these clusters of nanoparticles are so small, one tablespoon of 12-particle clusters could hold a whole terabyte of data.

This new idea is called wet computing, and could revolutionise the way we store and think about data. Turns out quantum computing isn’t the only data revolution on the horizon.