Newly-developed 5D data storage could survive long after humans have become extinct

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As part of an ongoing project, scientists from the University of Southampton are devising an incredibly advanced digital data storage technology that can survive for several billion years. Using highly-specialized femtosecond laser writing, the team has managed to develop the storage and retrieval processes of what is known as five dimensional (5D) digital data.

The new technology, according to the team from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Center (ORC), boasts unprecedented features when it comes to data storage, including thermal stability at temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, disc capacity of nearly 360 TB and many others. As the researchers point out, the 5D data archiving system has a virtually endless lifespan of over 13.8 billion years, when stored at around 190 degrees Celsius.

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It could serve as a portable form of digital memory for institutions with big archives, like museums, libraries, national archives and so on. The technology, the sceintists believe, could offer a stable and secure solution for recording and storing the history of mankind. Its first experimental demonstration took place back in 2013 when the researchers successfully created a 300 kb 5D copy of a text file.

So far, the 5D data storage technology has been used to archive a number of important documents from human history, including Magna Carta, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), King James Bible, Newton’s Opticks, among others. During the closing ceremony of the recent United Nations-organized International Year of Light (IYL), the scientists presented a 5D digital copy of the UDHR to UNESCO.

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According to the team, the technology promises safe and stable data storage for billions of years, even after humans have become extinct. To develop the copies, the researchers record the information using ultrafast laser that in turn produces extremely short, intense pulses of light. The data is encrypted onto three layers of nanosized dots around five micrometers (or one millionth of a meter) apart.

The self-assembled system, also known as the “Superman memory crystal”, alters the way light travels through a glass, changing its polarisation so that it can be read with the help of a polariser and an optical microscope. As the researchers point out, the process of data encoding takes place in five dimensions: basically the size and orientation along with the three-dimensional positions of these nanostructures. Speaking about the technology, Peter Kazansky, a professor at ORC, said:

It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations. This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.

The team will be presenting a paper, titled ‘5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Writing in Glass’, at the upcoming SPIE conference (i.e. The International Society for Optical Engineering Conference) to be held on February 17 in San Francisco. At present, the scientists are looking for ways to make the technology commercially available.

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Source: University of Southampton

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