What happens when you give a group of researchers some lasers and rubidium atoms stored in a thin vapor? They make it into a memory storage device, of course. Researchers at NIST, the Joint Quantum Institute and the University of Maryland have built on previous work from another group to store an image within a vapor of rubidium atoms, by encoding information onto them via a laser pulse.
When light strikes an atom it can encode some information onto it by changing its level. By controlling what frequency of light hits specific areas of the vapor, which had been magnetized, the researchers were able to encode an image. By flipping the orientation of the vapor with a magnetic field, a second laser pulse through it will cause the new photons to be encoded with the old photons' information, thereby reading the information left behind.
Sadly, we will not be seeing a new memory storage system evolve directly from this research, but that was not its purpose. The researchers were instead trying to learn how they can manipulate rubidium atoms, which is information that may go on to enable memory storage for quantum computers.