How Scientists Encoded The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz L Frank Baum Inside A Chemical Polymer 16 Symbols Vanishingly Small Plastic

Can you imagine being able to conceal highly sensitive information inside the chemical structure of ink? Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell have just made it possible. 

The researchers outlined a 256-bit encryption key and encoded it into a plastic-like material they synthesised in a lab. As a result, a new storage medium for encryption of a large data set was obtained. The study describing the findings was recently published in the journal ACS Central Science

The scientists proved their technique for storing data by encrypting a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Even the fastest computers cannot break the 256-bit encryption key. 

How Scientists Encrypted The Wizard Of Oz

The scientists stored the encrypted copy of The Wizard of Oz in a material called a sequence-defined polymer. It is made up of a long chain of monomer. According to the study, each monomer of the polymer corresponds to one of 16 symbols. The scientists, with the help of the newly developed technique, were able to encode the 256 bits of information in a way such that they can be read in the correct sequence. 

In a statement released by The University of Texas at Austin, Eric Anslyn, corresponding author on the paper, said when it comes to information storage, the team is looking for ways to store data in the smallest amount of space and in a format that is durable and readable. 

How Was The Book Decrypted?

In Anslyn’s lab, commercially available amino acids were used to produce the polymer material in a robotic machine. The team mixed the finished polymer into the ink of a personal letter in Texas. After this, they mailed the letter to a third party in Massachusetts.

The polymer was then extracted and analysed using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, an analytical technique used for separation, identification, and quantification of both known and unknown compounds. According to the study, the analysis revealed the encryption key. This decrypted the book completely on the first try.

Storage of data in a plastic-like material is extremely useful. Since quantum physics is advancing, quantum computers can break standard 8-bit passwords in seconds. Therefore, new, more complex encryption methods are necessary. 

ALSO READ: Most Computers Work With 0 And 1. This Quantum Computer Takes It Beyond The Binary: Study

Another reason why new alternatives for data storage are important is because vast amounts of digital data drive the need for data centres which indirectly hamper the environment by contributing to climate change.

The Wizard Of Oz Was Also Encoded In Synthetic DNA

Anslyn said this is the first time this much information has been stored in a polymer of this type.

In another lab at The University of Texas in Austin, synthetic DNA was used to encode The Wizard of Oz. Four chemical bases, namely adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T) were used in a four-symbol coded system. Since the new technique has 16 symbols, it makes the density of information storage far higher.

Anslyn said that all the information required to make a human is stored in a cell, and is done with four symbols. This indicates how powerful the new technique, which uses 16 symbols, is.

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