Feb. 28, 2016 | By Kira

Scientists from the University of Southampton have developed a groundbreaking technique for storing digital files in five dimensions. Known as 5D Optical Memory, the technique is capable of reliably and safely preserving a record-breaking 360 terabytes of data for billions of years, essentially safeguarding mankind’s collective knowledge forever.

The Holy Bible recorded into 'eternal' 5D optical data

To put that into context, consider that standard commercial flash drives usually store anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred gigabytes of data for a few years, tops. Even more sophisticated optical disc recording technologies, such as the M-DISC, are only meant to last up to 1,000 years. With 5D Optical Memory, however, scientists predict that 360TB of data can be preserved for 13.8 billion years if kept at 190°C. In addition, the method offers thermal stability up to 1,000°C.

Given these unprecedented capabilities, the 5D storage medium has been nicknamed the ‘Superman memory crystal,’ after the memory crystals in the Superman films. Most importantly, 5D data storage could soon become an invaluable asset to institutions with extensive historical archives, including national libraries, museums, or government record offices.

The 5D Data Storage process, developed by Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), consists of altering the optical properties of fused quartz at the nanoscale. This is done by creating 3D nanogratings using femtosecond laser writing.

To put that more simply, a femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second, and a nanograting is a three-dimensional nanocale ‘etching’ of the recorded information. The nanogratings are, in a sense, '3D printed' by shooting extremely short and fast pulses of laser light at a metal or glass surface. Each nanograting is written in three layers of nano-structured dots, separated by just five micrometers, and each dot can store one bit of information.

Nanogratings have been around since 1999, when the process was invented by Professor Peter Kazansky, also from the University of Southampton. The technique was further refined in 2011, when researchers proved they could store up to 50GB of data inside tiny glass shards.

Yet in order to take this 3D digital storage method to the next level, the scientists have since added two additional dimensions to the original three: size and orientation. To do this, they used the femtosecond laser to create self-assembling nanostructures rather than individual dots.

The idea is that these self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through the glass, modifying polarisation of light that can then be read by a combination of optical microscope and a polariser. Modifying the size and orientation of the nanostructures enables each dot to store three bits of information instead of one. That additional capacity means that researchers have been able to store up to 360TB of data with an unprecedented thermal stability of up to 1,000°C, and a practically unlimited lifetime if kept at room temperature.

 “It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,” said Professor Peter Kazansky of the ORC. “This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

5D Data Storage was first successfully demonstrated in 2013, when a 300kg digital copy of a text file was recorded in five-dimensions. Just three years later, such major documents as the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Magna Carta, and King James Bible have all be preserved as digital, 5D copies that could outlive the human race.

The Southampton researchers presented their work, titled ‘5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Writing in Glass,’ at the SPIE conference (International Society for Optical Engineering) in San Francisco last week. The next steps will be to increase the speed of writing, and as of now, the scientists are looking for industry partners in order to commercialize 5D Data Storage and bring it to market within the next few years.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Joe wrote at 2/29/2016 3:25:46 AM:

This sounds very promising, but nothing is mentioned about the speed of writing and reading, which is very crucial in today's applications. I really hope they will succeed to solve the technical issues regarding speed and stability or laser when used domestically. www.alloma.ca We share, because we care.

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