Tiny, nanostructured glass disks could create data archives that outlive the human race.
These ‘eternal’ storage systems, developed by scientists at the University of Southampton, harness five-dimensional digital data that could survive for billions of years.
Dubbed the ‘Superman memory crystal,’ the technique has already recorded major historical documents like the Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, using lasers to etch 5-D data into the glass.
Each ‘memory crystal’ has 360 TB/disc data capacity, and thermal stability up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.
At 190 degrees, the storage systems can survive 13.8 billion years.
And, if stored at room temperature, these disks are essentially immortal.
Researchers from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre use femtosecond – ultrafast – laser writing to produce the recordings.
The laser gives off short, intense pulses of light, inscribing information onto three layers of nanostructured dots.
Each of these layers is separated by five micrometres.
The ‘Superman memory crystal,’ as scientists are calling it, uses self-assembling nanostructures, which alter the path of light traveling through the glass.
This changes the polarization of light, so it can then be read using an optical microscope and a polarizer.
The ‘crystals’ then reveal information in five dimensions – size, orientation, and the three dimensional position of the nanostructures.
Scientists first used this technique experimentally in 2013, to demonstrate the recording of a 300kb text file.
Now, they’ve used it to record historical documents including Newton’s Opticks and King James Bible, along with the Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
As the technique is both safe and portable, scientists say it could be used to preserve the records of major organizations.
This would allow for the ‘eternal’ storage of national archives, museums and library records, among many others.
With an estimate survivability of billions of years, and a ‘virtually unlimited’ lifespan when stored at room temperature, the ‘Superman memory crystals,’ could hold record of human history – even beyond the survival of humankind.
Researchers say it could reveal the ‘last evidence’ of our civilizations for future societies.
‘It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,’ says Professor Peter Kazansky, from the ORC.
‘This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.’
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