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What would you do with centuries of stored data? Thanks to a team of scientists, humans may now be able to preserve a record of the entire history of humankind.
This week, the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton announced a breakthrough with a new device called the "Superman memory crystal"—evoking images of a device made famous in the 1980 hit movie "Superman II."
A process of etching data into the glass with a laser allows the memory crystal to be scanned in five dimensional (5D) digital data, while storing properties including a whopping 360 TB/disc data capacity. Additionally, the crystal is pretty tough to destroy: It boasts a thermal stability up to 1832 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 degrees Celsius) and virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature.
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In other words, the nanostructured glass could store data for nearly 14 billion years. Needless to say, that much capacity would make a lot of digital music and movie lovers very happy.
"It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations," said Professor Peter Kazansky of the ORC. "This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization; all we've learnt will not be forgotten."
According to the scientists who pioneered the crystal's design, it could be useful for organizations with big files to maintain. These include museums, libraries, and national archives to preserve their information and records, according to the university. Some of the documents that have been already been scanned by this new technology include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton's Opticks, the Magna Carta and King James Bible.
The technology was part of a 2013 experiment, in which a quartz chip successfully recorded a 300 kb digital copy of a text file in 5D. The dimensions include height, length, width, how the object is oriented, and position.
With this new technology, historians could record major documents using a laser that produces extremely short and intense pulses of light. After scanning, the file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by a distance equivalent of one millionth of a meter.
The self-assembled nanostructures can change the way light travels through glass, changing the polarization of light similar to the way sunlight is changed in Polaroid sunglasses. But work on the crystal isn't done yet.
"Our next goal is to increase the speed of writing and develop a microscope-free read-out drive," said Rokas Drevinskas of the Physical Optics Group at Southampton University. "We are developing the technology similar to what is used for reading conventional CD/DVDs introducing the additional two dimensions."
The group hopes that with support from investors that they will be able to eventually reach the mass market in the next several years.