Computers may soon be saving their data onto hard drives made of glass following research by British scientists who have developed a way of storing information similar to the "memory crystals" seen in the Superman films.
Researchers at Southampton University used lasers to rearrange the atoms in pieces of glass, turning it into new type of computer memory.
They claim the glass memory is far more stable and resilient than current types of hard-drive memory, which have a limited lifespan of a couple of decades and are vulnerable to damage from high temperatures and moisture.
The glass memory can withstand temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees F, is unaffected by water and can last for thousands of years without losing information.
Information can be written, wiped and rewritten into the molecular structure of the glass using a laser, the scientists claim.
The process changes the way light travels through the glass, creating whirlpools of polarised light that can then be read in much the same way as data in optical fibres.
The glass memory has been compared to the "memory crystals" used in the Superman films, which contain recorded video and data saved by his parents that play back when inserted into a player in his fortress.
Martynas Beresna, lead researcher for the project at Southampton University's optoelectronics research centre, said they can currently store the equivalent of a whole Blu-ray Disc – up to 50GB of data – on a piece of glass no bigger than a mobile phone screen.
He said: "We have developed this memory which means data can be stored on the glass and last forever. It could become a very stable and safe form of portable memory.
"It could be very useful for organisations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan.
"Museums who want to preserve information or places like the National Archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit."
The recording process, which is done by focusing a laser to imprint tiny dots called "voxels" into the pure silica glass. the process makes the glass slightly opaque and polarises the light as it passes through. This can then be read using a optical detector.
The scientists, whose research is published in the scientific journal of Applied Physics Letters, are now working with a Lithuanian company Altechna to take the technology to market.