17th February 2016
Tiny crystal stores 360TB of data for billions of years
Scientists have announced a major step forward in creating "5D" data storage that can survive for billions of years.
Scientists at the University of Southampton, England, have achieved a major step forward in the creation of digital data storage that is capable of surviving for billions of years. Using nanostructured glass, researchers from the University's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have developed the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.
The storage allows unprecedented properties including 360 terabytes (TB) per disc capacity, thermal stability up to 1,000°C and a virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (or 13.8 billion years at 190°C), opening a new era of eternal data archiving. As an extremely stable and safe form of portable memory, the technology could be highly useful in organisations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to ensure their information and records are kept perfectly preserved.
The technology was first experimentally demonstrated in July 2013, when a simple 300 kb text file was recorded in 5D. Now, major documents from throughout human history – such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton's Opticks, Magna Carta and Kings James Bible – have been saved as digital copies that could survive the human race.
The documents were recorded using an ultrafast laser, producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometres (a millionth of a metre). The self-assembled nanostructures change how light travels through glass, modifying the polarisation of light, which is then read by a combination of optical microscope and a polariser, similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses.
Coined as the "Superman memory crystal", as the glass memory has been compared to the "memory crystals" used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created within fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.
Professor Peter Kazansky, from the ORC, comments: "It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations. This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we've learnt will not be forgotten."
The researchers are presenting their research today at the International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco, USA. Their invited paper is titled "Eternal 5D data storage by ultrafast laser writing in glass." The team are now looking for industry partners to further develop and commercialise their ground-breaking new technology.