Tuesday 20 February 2018

Amazing disk stores data for 14 billion years!

5d disks
5d disks

Paul Mallon

A new technology is making it possible to store vast amounts of data in a format which won't degrade til we're long since dust

Did you know that your digital content won't last forever? Many of us remember the sad day when a VHS tape gave up the ghost but even CDs and DVDs are prone to 'disk rot' which results in choppy content or even data become unreadable at all. Even a USB drive has a lifespan, determined by how many times it has been written to. With heavy use, this might be as little as 10 years or up to 80 years if the drive is cared for.

80 years sounds like a long time but when you consider that there are people alive today which will outlast your data it's pretty clear another storage solution should be found. And it looks like it's arrived in the form of '5D disks.'

This technology has been around for a few years, with researchers at the University of Southampton working to perfect it since 2013. The idea is that sophisticated lasers are used to etch dots into a piece of nanostructured glass. These dots have a certain size and orientation and also a position in the regular three dimensions, making up five dimensions of data.

Needless to say, it's all pretty complicated but the sheer density of these dots, in three layers separated by just five micrometers, means that the storage capacity of the disks is incredible - up to 360 terabytes of data. That's enough space for almost 100 million songs. And the disks are very hardy too, able to withstand temperatures of up to 1000 degrees C. They'll also pretty much last forever, up to 14 billion years without significant degradation, by which time we will be nothing but cosmic dust almost 10 billion years after the sun has shone its last.

The techy sorts are calling it the Superman Memory Crystal (because it's a little like the tech the Kryptonian used in his Fortress of Solitude) and they've already started making everlasting copies of important documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta and the King James Bible. A copy of the Declaration of Human Rights was presented to UNESCO on a tiny disk.

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

It's not known when this kind of technology will be available for everyday use but the University is looking for business partners to develop it over the coming years. It looks like we'll never have to worry about losing those Facebook photos again!

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