Researchers store data in five dimensions, claim ‘unlimited life’

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Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton have demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of what they call 'five dimensional digital data'. The storage approach is said to enable a disk to story 360Tbyte of data, with thermal stability up to 1000°C and a 'practically unlimited' lifetime.

The research is led by Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) researcher Jingyu Zhang 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 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," said Zhang. "Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit." Data is recorded via self assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions – size and orientation, along with the three regular dimensions. A 300kb text file was successfully recorded in 5d using a laser producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by 5µm. The researchers explain that self assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, modifying its polarisation. Data can then be read by combination of an optical microscope and a polariser. Professor Peter Kazansky, the ORC's group supervisor, noted: "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 is now looking to commercialise its research, which was undertaken within the EU Femtoprint project.