Data Storage Forever

A new method of optical data storage can record large amounts of data in a small space and still be readable billions of years in the future.

Optical Data Storage Forever

Data storage has always been one of the main components of information systems.  From the punched cards of early computers through today’s smallest drives, data storage has come a long way!  Recently we’ve seen a more recent advance – optical data storage discs such as CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs – become less common.  Many of today’s new computers don’t come with an optical drive standard.  Optical data storage may soon make a comeback, however, given some new advancements announced recently.

Scientists at the University of Southampton have made major breakthroughs in data storage using ulrafast lasers that produce very short, intense light pulses.  These lasers write information onto small discs of fused quartz glass, creating three layers of nanostructured dots.  These self-assembled nanostructures change the way light moves through the glass, modifying the light’s polarisation.  These changes can then be read using an optical microscope and a polariser.  Data is encoded in “five dimensions” that include the nanostructures’ position in the glass (length, width, and height), their size, and their orientation.  This has given the data storage its technical name of five dimensional (or 5D) digital data.  It’s also been referred to as the “Superman memory crystal” after the devices used in the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve.

So far, a coin-sized piece of digital data storage can hold up to 360 terabytes of information.  The most startling property isn’t how much data can be stored as how long it will last.  It’s estimated that the data could, at room temperature, be usable for 13.8 billion years.  This means large quantities of information can not only be stored in a very small and stable place but that the data could be around virtually forever.

The University of Southampton team is, of course, now looking for partners to further develop and commercialise 5D data storage.

What do you think of this new step forward in optical data storage?  Let us know in the comments below!

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