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Memory and Storage

Researchers Figure Out How to Digitally Store Data for Billions of Years

18 February 2016

Scientists at the University of Southampton are working on a form of digital data storage that can survive for billions of years. The team used nanostructured glass to develop the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

Eternal 5D data storage of the Bible. (Image via University of Southampton)Eternal 5D data storage of the Bible. (Image via University of Southampton)

The storage allows for 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1,000°C and unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190°C ), which opens the doors to a new kind of eternal data archiving. The technology was experimentally demonstrated three years ago when a 300 kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D, and could be useful for organizations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to preserve their information and records.

Now, important documents from human history like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton’s Opticks, the Magna Carta and the Kings James Bible, have also been saved as digital copies that could outlive the human race. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recorded into 5D optical data was recorded using an ultrafast laser that produces extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file was written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometers.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights recorded into 5D optical data. (Image via University of Southampton)Universal Declaration of Human Rights recorded into 5D optical data. (Image via University of Southampton)

The nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, changing the polarization of light that can then be read by a combination of an optical microscope and a polarizer, similar to the technology found in a pair of Polaroid sunglasses. “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 civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten,” said Peter Kazansky, professor at the university’s Optoelectronics Research Center.

The glass is being referred to as the “Superman memory crystal”, since it resembles the glass “memory crystals” used in the Superman films. With the crystal, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz.

The team is now looking for industry partners to help further develop and commercialize the new technology.

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