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You can now read Jane Austen in . . . molecule form.


April 23, 2021, 12:08pm

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery—here’s some good Friday news: in a new study, a team from UT Austin has encoded a quote from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park on a small plastic molecule.

The goal of the study was to test the viability of plastics as an efficient data-storing technology. Print archives fade and decay, data centers are energy sinkholes and don’t process fast enough for ever-growing data storage needs—even encoding information into DNA strands is expensive, given that DNA must be kept sterile and be handled carefully. Plastics—synthetic polymers—are long-chain molecules made up of repeat units (monomers), and scientists can encode language by deciding different sequences of monomers correspond to different letters. Plastics are stable under normal environmental conditions, making them particularly suitable materials for data storage.

The study was successful: the researchers successfully sequenced the molecules and then were able to decode the encoded information to reproduce the Mansfield Park passage. Even better, a colleague unaffiliated with the project was able to correctly decode the quote using a set of instructions provided by the researchers.

And the Mansfield Park quote in question? “If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.” Given the quote’s new, molecular context, it rings doubly true.

[via The Conversation]

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