5-D 'Superman memory' crystal could lead to unlimited lifetime data storage

July 16, 2013. Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five-dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing. The storage allows unprecedented parameters including 360-TB/disk data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C, and practically unlimited lifetime.

Coined as the “‘Superman' memory crystal,” as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years. The information encoding is realized in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the 3-D position of these nanostructures.

A 300-kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5-D using ultrafast laser, producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five µm.

The self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, modifying polarization of light that can then be read by combination of optical microscope and a polarizer.

The research is led by Jingyu Zhang from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and conducted under a joint project with Eindhoven University of Technology.

“We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organizations 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,” said Jingyu.

“Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit.”

The Physical Optics group from the ORC presented their paper at the photonics industry's Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO 13) in San Jose. The paper, “5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Nanostructuring in Glass” was presented by the during CLEO's post deadline session.

This work was done in the framework of EU project Femtoprint

Professor Peter Kazansky, the ORC’s group supervisor, adds: “It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race. This technology can secure the last evidence of civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The team are now looking for industry partners to commercialize this new technology.

www.southampton.ac.uk

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