Digital storage is incredibly easy and practical, but it has the downside of being prone to data loss. A book stored on your hard drive might last less than a hardcover. After four years, 11% of hard drives will fail. Solid state drives last a tad longer, but after a number of read-write cycles these too will inevitably fail. Cloud storage is your safest bet at the moment, but you’re at the whim of a third party. Now, for most practical purposes this can be fine, but if you need to store important data for … hundreds of years? This might seem absurd, but national archives are very serious about it and invest a lot in networks that backup data over and over. There might now be a more elegant solution after a team reports how they managed to cram 360TB worth of five-dimensional (5D) digital data onto a small quartz disk. The researchers claim the data is stable for as long as 13.8 billion years at temperatures up to 190 degrees Celsius.
Southampton University researchers fired femtosecond laser pulses onto a structure of quartz at the nanoscale to write data. They made three layers of nano dots, each layer separate by only five microns. Another laser pulse fired on the structure measures the polarisation of the light. Changes in polarization can be used to read data.
“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 in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures,” reads a press release.
A light wave that is vibrating in more than one plane is referred to as unpolarized light. The light emitted by the sun, by a lamp in the classroom, or by a candle flame is unpolarized light. Such light waves are created by electric charges that vibrate in a variety of directions, thus creating an electromagnetic wave that vibrates in a variety of directions.
So far, the researchers wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton’s Opticks, the Magna Carta and the Kings James Bible on such a quartz disk. That’s not a lot, but judging from the density of data, they could fit in 360 terabytes or million-times more.
“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,” said Professor Peter Kazansky.