Scientiests at the University of Southampton have invented a new form of digital data storage, which records information in five dimensions, has a disc capacity of 360 Terabytes, and is capable of surviving for billions of years.
A team in the University's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have made a huge breakthrough in data storage, developing the recording and retrieval of five dimensional (5D) digital information by femtosecond laser writing.
This is a process of shining extremely short and intense pulses of light, which are shone through a piece of glass, consisting of three layers of nanostructured dots that are separated by five micrometres (that's just one millionth of a metre). This so-called 'Superman memory crystal', named after the "memory crystals" used in the superhero's film franchise, encodes information in five dimensions: the size, orientation and three dimensional position of these dots.
This unlocks amazing potential including a disc capacity of 360 TB, thermal stability of up to 1,000°C and virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190°C). Logically, we could begin to archive all the information about humankind, so that future generations can learn more about their lineage. Beyond this, this technology could be useful for places with huge amounts of data, like national archives, museums and libraries.
"It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations," Professor Peter Kazansky, from the ORC, commented. "This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we've learnt will not be forgotten."
Experiments first began with this technology in 2013, when a 300 kb digital text file was successfully saved in 5D. This has moved on now, to documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was presented to UNESCO by the ORC at the Invernational Year of Light (IYL) closing ceremony in Mexico, and the Bible.
This ground-breaking new technology will be presented at the International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco, USA this week, on Wednesday 17 February. The paper, catchily titled '5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laswer Writing in Glass', will be shown there to begin commercialisation of this innovation.