Take everything you know about data storage and set it aside, because a breakthrough from a research team at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Center (ORC) could change everything. The scientists have developed a totally new type of data storage, in the form of glass discs close to the size of a quarter. Data is encoded into tiny nanostructures embedded within the glass, and the team believes their invention could be used to store data for up to 13.8 billion years.
Many forms of data storage have come and gone over the years, as computer technology continues to evolve. Each has been discarded after a time, replaced by something bigger, better, and more durable. With the introduction of these ‘five-dimensional’ glass discs, there may not be a need to look much further when it comes to advances in data storage. Each tiny clear disc is capable of holding up to 360 terabytes of data – even at 190°C (374°F) – for a really, really, really long time.
The team first presented the concept in 2013 and has spent the intervening years perfecting the technique, which involves embedding “nanogratings” within the glass disc. Unlike a CD or Blu-ray disc, which record data in tiny bumps on the disc’s surface, the 5D data storage technique is more protective, because the minuscule structures that contain the data aren’t vulnerable to scuffs and scratches.
“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, head of the ORC. “This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”
Kazansky will present the new discovery at the International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco on Feb 17.