Researchers from Universities of Sheffield and Leeds have shown that certain types of sound waves can move data quickly, using minimal power which can be the answer to faster computing or access the data you need.

The sound used is in the form of surface acoustic waves - the same as the most destructive wave that can emanate from an earthquake. Although already harnessed for use in electronics and other areas of engineering, this is the first time surface acoustic waves have been applied to a data storage system.

"The key advantage of surface acoustic waves in this application is their ability to travel up to several centimetres without decaying, which at the nano-scale is a huge distance," explained Tom Hayward from University of Sheffield.

"Because of this, we think a single sound wave could be used to 'sing' to large numbers of nanowires simultaneously, enabling us to move a lot of data using very little power," he added.

The world's data is mostly held on hard disk drives - magnetic disks that work like miniaturised record players, with the data read by sensors that scan over the disk's surface as it spins. But because this involves moving parts, there are limits on how fast it can operate.

In the new study, Dr Hayward and professor John Cunningham from University of Leeds came up with a completely new solution: passing sound waves across the surface on which the wires are fixed.

They also found that the direction of data flow depends on the pitch of the sound generated - in effect they 'sang' to the data to move it.

"We are now aiming to create prototype devices in which this concept can be fully tested," the duo noted.

The research was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.