Analog tape disks degrade, digital storage media is temperature-sensitive, and books (print on paper) are still some of the best ways to store data long-term, at least until five-dimensional storage came along to change all of that, jumping us from centuries to eons in scope.
Researchers at the University of Southampton’s Optical Research Center have developed a 5D storage technique that can keep data safe for billions of years, etching it onto thermally-stable discs with femotsecond laser bursts. Think: Superman’s memory crystals, except real.
The medium can hold a stunning 360 terabytes per disc and withstand temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, but kept in ideal conditions have a shelf life of 14 billion years. Human-readable etchings at larger scales allow the discs to be marked for future identification.
The trick is in the layering of nanoscale dots, defined by three points in space as well as their size and orientation, constituting their fourth and fifth dimensions. Light traveling through the disc is read with a polarizer. In the past three years, the team has upped the storage capacity from a few hundred kilobytes to its currency status.
“It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,” Professor Peter Kazansky from the ORC said in a statement. “This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”