New technology will 'secure the last evidence of civilisation'

Using nanostructured glass, scientists at Southampton University have experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

The storage is claimed to allow unprecedented parameters including 360TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.

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 realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

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

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

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,’ Jingyu said in a statement. ‘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 - 5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Nanostructuring in Glass - at the photonics industry’s Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO’13) in San Jose. This work was done in the framework of EU project Femtoprint.

Prof Peter Kazansky, the ORC’s group supervisor, said, ‘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 commercialise the new technology.