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Could 5D "Superman memory crystal" live forever?

16 Jul 2013

Scientists have for the first time experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data, a move which could lead to unlimited lifetime data storage.

Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK say the storage allows parameters including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.

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, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years.

Led by Jingyu Zhang from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), the research was conducted under a joint project with Eindhoven University of Technology.

“We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organisations with big archives," Jingyu says.

"At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan.

“Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit.”

The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

A 300 kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D using ultrafast laser, producing short and intense pulses of light - the file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometres (one millionth of a metre).

Jingyu says the self-assembled nanostructures "change the way light travels through glass, modifying polarisation of light that can then be read by combination of optical microscope and a polariser, similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses."

The Physical Optics group from the ORC presented their paper, ‘5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Nanostructuring in Glass’, at the photonics industry's Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO’13) in San Jose.

Professor Peter Kazansky, the ORC’s group supervisor, adds: “It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race.

"This technology can secure the last evidence of civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The team are now looking for industry partners to commercialise the new technology.

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