Science

Robust long-term data storage technology uses tiny drops of dye

Robust long-term data storage ...
Harvard researcher Amit A. Nagarkar, with an epoxy-coated slide containing the data-storage dots
Harvard researcher Amit A. Nagarkar, with an epoxy-coated slide containing the data-storage dots
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Harvard researcher Amit A. Nagarkar, with an epoxy-coated slide containing the data-storage dots
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Harvard researcher Amit A. Nagarkar, with an epoxy-coated slide containing the data-storage dots

We tend to think of digital storage as being fairly permanent, but the reality is the data you've stored on that hard drive, flash drive or CD-ROM likely won't survive more than 20 to 40 years. With that in mind, Harvard researchers have created what they say is much longer-term data storage alternative using, of all things, spots of glowing dye.

In the experimental system, an inkjet printer is used to deposit tiny drops of fluorescent dye onto an epoxy surface, to which they chemically bond. Each dot is composed of a blend of up to seven different dye colors. Those colors in turn serve as bits for American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ACSII) binary characters – each bit is either a 0 or a 1, depending on whether a specific dye is absent or present, respectively.

When a fluorescence microscope is subsequently used to analyze the different wavelengths of light emitted by those dots, it can tell which dye colors are present in each one, and thus what character it represents. The system has a read rate of 469 bits per second – which is reportedly the fastest of any molecular information storage method – and it can store 1,407,542 bits within a 7.2 x 7.2-mm surface. Additionally, the dye data can be read 1,000 times without a significant loss in fluorescence intensity.

More importantly, the scientists estimate that data stored in this fashion could remain readable for thousands of years. It also wouldn't be susceptible to water damage, it couldn't be remotely hacked, it wouldn't be subject to the size limits of existing storage systems, and its storage wouldn't require any energy.

In a test of the technology, the researchers used it to encode the first section of a famous research paper by English scientist Michael Faraday, along with a JPEG image of the man. The information could subsequently be read with a 99.6-percent accuracy rate, which should improve as the system is developed further.

"This method could provide access to archival data storage at a low cost," says postdoctoral fellow Amit A. Nagarkar, co-lead author of a paper on the study. "[It] provides access to long-term data storage using existing commercial technologies – inkjet printing and fluorescence microscopy."

The paper was recently published in the journal ACS Central Science. There's more information in the following video.

Shining Light on a New Fluorescent Data Storage Technique

Sources: Harvard University, American Chemical Society

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