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Boise State University Awarded $3.5 Million to Research Storing Data on DNA


A research team from Boise State University recently was awarded a total of $3.5 million from state and federal sources for their efforts to lead the nation in using DNA to store massive amounts of digital information.

The technology, coined Nucleic Acid Memory (NAM), harnesses the intrinsic code of DNA to reliably store information well beyond the predicted lifetimes of traditional memory materials that make up hard-drives, solid-state drives and magnetic tape.

The viability of NAM as a technology for archival memory was first described in an article published in the scientific journal, Nature Materials. Authored by Will Hughes and Reza Zadegan of Boise State, George Church of Harvard University, Gurtej Sandhu of Micron Technology and Victor Zhirnov of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the article outlined the promise and challenges of using DNA as a storage material and laid the foundation for the current research efforts at Boise State.

“The rapid proliferation of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the emergence of big data for scientific, financial, governmental and genetic analytics is creating an information storage crisis,” said Hughes, director of the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State. “With estimates that global memory demand will exceed projected silicon supply in 2040, NAM is attractive because a bucket of DNA can archive our entire recorded history.”

With $2 million awarded by the Higher Education Research Council (HERC) Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM), the research team will establish a world-class NAM Institute in Boise. With Hughes serving as the director, the institute will bring together the necessary infrastructure, resources and expertise needed to pioneer NAM technologies and to educate a future NAM workforce. The funding strengthens Idaho’s reputation as an innovation hub for memory.

“Boise has long been known as a center for innovative memory and storage technologies due to the presence of Micron Technology and the growing engineering strength of Boise State,” said Elton Graugnard, who will serve as co-director of the NAM Institute. “This investment recognizes the exciting research happening here in establishing an entirely new form of data storage.”

Enabling the science to transform NAM from its potential to practice, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and SRC jointly awarded the research team $1.5 million. The funds support a multidisciplinary team of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and staff addressing the scientific challenges facing NAM technologies.

Illustrating the multidisciplinary nature of NAM, the Boise State team includes researchers from the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering (Hughes, Graugnard and Zadegan), the Department of Computer Science (Tim Andersen), the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Wan Kuang) and the Department of Biological Sciences (Eric Hayden). The research team is supported by Chad Watson as both the project manager and research development catalyst. Bernard Yurke at Boise State and Steve Kramer at Micron Technology will serve as the scientific and technology advisors. Gurtej Sandhu and Victor Zhirnov will co-chair the NAM Institute’s Advisory Board.

“The leadership and innovation of this research team has brought them to the threshold of becoming a world class player in the research, development and education of nucleic acid memory,” said Sandhu.