Materials

Eternal data storage demonstrated in nanostructured glass

Eternal data storage demonstra...
Thermally stable up to 1,000° C (1,832º F), data stored in nanostructured glass is projected to remain readable for billions of years
Thermally stable up to 1,000° C (1,832º F), data stored in nanostructured glass is projected to remain readable for billions of years
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Thermally stable up to 1,000° C (1,832º F), data stored in nanostructured glass is projected to remain readable for billions of years
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Thermally stable up to 1,000° C (1,832º F), data stored in nanostructured glass is projected to remain readable for billions of years
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laser-written in glass
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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laser-written in glass

The quest for high-density immutable storage has taken a big leap forward thanks to "Superman crystals" developed by scientists at the University of Southampton. The glass discs are reportedly capable of storing up to 360 TB/disc of data and will last almost forever at room temperature (or as long as the current 13.8 billion year age of our Universe at 190° C/374° F).

Much to the dismay of many, including audiophiles that discarded their vinyl in favor of CDs, conventional digitally-stored data doesn't last forever. In fact it's remarkably perishable. CDs and DVDs can deteriorate in decades, and hard drives have an ultimate 100 percent failure rate. In fact until recently, researchers focused on extending the life of digital data have found it challenging to exceed even 100 years.

A step toward a much more stable storage medium was taken by Hitachi in 2012, with its binary-coded dots etched within quartz glass. However, limitations in the volume of data a "disc" could hold as well as writing speeds have limited this technology.

The same Southampton team behind the current innovation first demonstrated the Superman crystal tech in 2013, but actual storage capabilities were limited. Their recent breakthrough, however, addresses that shortcoming.

To record data, a femtosecond (fs) laser delivers ultrashort (280-fs, with 1 fs = 10-15 seconds) light pulses onto a piece of quartz, creating microscopic dots (nano-gratings) in the quartz. Each dot encodes three bits of information including the position of the dot and the intensity and polarization of the light in three layers of the quartz. Ultimately a disc the size of a CD or DVD with about 1,000 layers would have a data capacity of hundreds of terabytes, compared with hundreds of megabytes for today's commercial discs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laser-written in glass
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laser-written in glass

The scientists behind this innovation anticipate future developments include increasing storage capacity by addingadditional polarization states as well as significant improvements to writetimes.

Current documents printed in this format as proof of conceptinclude the King James Bible, the Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights. A paper on the research was presented this past Wednesday at The International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco.

The video below shows the femtosecond laser fabricating a 5D "Superman crystal" data storage disc.

Fabrication process for 5D optical storage

Source: University of Southampton

8 comments
Keith Reeder
"reportedly capable of storing up to 360 TB/disc of data and will last almost forever at room temperature (or as long as the current 13.8 billion year age of our Universe at 190° C/374° F)."
OK - how do they know THAT? "Reportedly capable" implies evidence of that capability.
christopher
Glass is a liquid, right? Good luck trying to read data out of the puddle you've got left in a few centuries.
OliverStarr
To determine the lifetime of the optical data storage system, the researchers subjected the information to accelerated aging to obtain the decay rate. The underlying mechanism of decay is the collapse of nanovoids that exist between the nanogratings; when the nanovoids collapse, the nanogratings become unstable and lose their stored data.
The researchers calculated that the decay time of the nanogratings, and thus the lifetime of the data storage system, is about 3 x 1020 years at room temperature, indicating unprecedented high stability. The lifetime decreases at elevated temperatures, but even at temperatures of 462 K (189° C, 372° F), the extrapolated decay time is 13.8 billion years, comparable to the age of the Universe.
Racqia Dvorak
"Glass is a liquid, right? Good luck trying to read data out of the puddle you've got left in a few centuries."
No, glass is not a liquid.
" A mathematical model shows it would take longer than the universe has existed for room temperature cathedral glass to rearrange itself to appear melted."
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-fiction-glass-liquid/
ThomasMiddlemiß
Does anyone see the irony in this featuring the Holy Bible?
JR
There is the M-Disk DVD/BD that should last around 1000 years and has been independently tested. The problem with it is that even with selected writers it can only be written at 1x speed.
JJEmerald
Read/write speed is the important part, which doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere. Not much use having 360 TB of space if it takes years to write the data.
JweenyPwee
Of course someone brings up the "Holy Bible" aspect of the image.
It's likely a nod to the Gutenberg printing press, since this invention's hallmark is the eternal preservation of data, or in Gutenberg's case, the written word.
The Gutenberg Bible's legendary significance in history needs no explanation.
The image above isn't a religious statement, just a profound nod toward the history of mankind's eternal endeavor to immortally preserve his presence in the universe.