Forget 3D - 5D ‘Superman’ Memory Crystal Could Help Preserve Human Legacy

The image shows the digital data recorded into 5-D optical data storage. Image Credit: University of Southampton

Experimental data has been obtained on nanostructured glass that could help to preserve huge amounts of data for over one million years, which may help record historical data for future generations.

The research was led by Jingyu Zhang from the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton in a joint project with Eindhoven University of Technology.

The paper was presented at CLEO'13 in San Jose, at the respected post deadline session, and the work was conducted within the framework of the ‘Femtoprint’ EU project.

Nanostructured Dots

The key to preserving the data lies in the self-assembled nanostructures within a glass

structure of fused quartz. These nanostructured dots, separated by just one millionth of a metre, modify the polarisation of extremely short, high intensity bursts of light from a laser. The structures then encode and preserve the data in 5 dimensions.

Though the mind may boggle when trying to picture 5 dimensions, it is in actuality simply referring to the standard 3 dimensional proportions of the nanostructures, plus their orientation and size.

The nanostructured glass has been affectionately been compared to the memory crystals used in the Superman films, though it is doubtful this technology will be used by Lex Luthor to attempt to create a new continent.

Vast archiving potential

It is not only the length of time that the data can be persevered in these structures that is impressive, but also the amount that can be stored - 360 TB/disc data capacity is thought to be achievable. To put that in perspective, a decent modern laptop will have hard drive capacity of around just 500GB!

So though the techniques involved are still at a research level (the scientists managed to record a 300kb text file), this potentially opens up vast archiving potential for museums and government departments. Jingyu Zhang noted in a recent press release:

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

Further adding to the resilience of the glass is the fact that it has a thermal stability of 1000C, meaning it can resist temperatures physical deformation up to very high temperatures, leaving the data intact. This, combined with the overall integrity of the system, means that data recorded this way could outlast human civilization. Jingyu Zhang gives his thoughts on the matter below:

"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."

ORC researcher Jingyu Zhang. Image Credit: University of Southampton

Orininal source: University of Southampton

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G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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