Back when compact discs were first coming out, they were touted as being able to store data “forever.” As it turns out, given no more than a decade or so, they can and do degrade. According to an AFP report, Hitachi has unveiled a system that really may allow data to last forever – or at least, for several hundred million years. It involves forming microscopic dots within a piece of quartz glass, those dots serving as binary code.
The idea is that eons after the dots are applied to the glass, a person (or whatever’s around then) should be able to easily read them using nothing more than an optical microscope – no medium-specific device, such as a CD player, will be necessary. Hopefully, the concept of binary code will still be understood.
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The current prototype measures two centimeters (0.8 inches) square by two millimeters thick, and incorporates four layers of dots. It currently has a memory capacity of 40 megabytes per square inch, which is roughly equivalent to that of a music CD. The researchers believe, however, that adding more layers to boost its capacity should be doable.
The glass square has withstood exposure to high-temperature flames along with various harsh chemicals, and survived being heated to 1,000º C (1,832º F) for two hours. Not surprisingly, it is also unaffected by radio waves or immersion in water. Of course, glass is breakable, although quartz is known for being particularly hard.
According to Hitachi, the technology may see its first practical use in storing information for government agencies, museums or religious organizations.
This is not the first time that glass has been experimentally used for super-long-term data storage. Scientists from the University of Southampton have been working with monolithic glass space-variant polarization converters, that are read using a laser.