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Patterned media is a potential magnetic storage technology to record data in a uniform array of magnetic cells, storing one bit per cell, as opposed to regular hard-drive technology, where each bit is stored across a few hundred magnetic grains. In a nutshell, it uses nanolithography to pattern the underlying media with the magnetic cells allowing for greater areal density than would normally be possible. 
Advantages of prototypes in patterned media research
Patterned media presents the possibility of increasing data densities compared to conventional media. Patterned media is the next step in hard drive evolution and scientific applications. In patterned media recording, the areal density increases 10 times over the current forms of recording technology. Since patterned media have predefined domains, as a medium it behaves as a single magnetic domain due to a strong coupling between the grains in a bit providing higher thermal stability. The advantages of patterned medium are the elimination of noise in continuous medium called transition noise due to two oppositely magnetized grains during playback, and the dependence on grain size is not of focus to obtain high data densities but relying on volume and the entire magnetic element.
Methods to develop prototypes for pattern media
In research, one of the processes in creating prototypes is by ion beam proximity lithography. Ion beam proximity lithography uses stencil masks to produce patterns in ion-sensitive material (resist) which is transferred to magnetic material. The stencil mask contains a thin free standing silicon nitride membrane in which openings are formed. The pattern to be generated is first formed on a substrate that contains a photo-resist using electron beam lithography. Next the substrate is used to transfer the given pattern onto the nitride membrane (stencil mask) using the process of plasma etching. To create sufficient substrates is to maintain size uniformity of the openings which is transferred to the mask during the fabrication process (etching). Many factors contribute to the achievement and maintenance of size uniformity in the mask, such as: pressure, temperature, energy (amount of voltage), and power used when etching. To optimize the process of etching uniform patterns correctly under these parameters, the substrate can be used as a template to fabricate stencil masks of silicone nitride through the process of ion proximity beam lithography. The stencil mask can then be used as a prototype to create pattern media.
- Ross, C.A.: "Patterned magnetic recording media"p 203-235. Annual Review of Materials Science, 2001: 31.
- Wolfe et al.: A proximity ion beam lithography process for high density nanostructures.,(1996):.14, 3896-3899. Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology B
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