Researchers develop 5D data storage to last billions of years

16 Feb 2016

With the human race inevitably going to burn out at some point in the future, one team of researchers has devised a data storage method that can store information on our species for billions of years.

Like a will for the human race, one day, we are going to want to preserve our legacy for someone, anyone, to find after we’re long gone, so, it seems, our only option is long-term digital storage.

However, the hard drives that we all possess in our phones and computers are certainly not an option on a scale of thousands, millions or billions of years, which is why science has looked to find means of creating a home for digital information that could last for aeons.

Well, now, scientists at the University of Southampton’s (US) Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have announced a major breakthrough in durable data information storage that can record and retrieve processes of five-dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

The technology was first demonstrated back in 2013 when a tiny 300kb text file was recorded on a 5D storage model, but now this latest breakthrough has smashed that capacity by some distance.

5D data storage

Example of 5D data storage. Image via US

Can last for 13.8bn years

According to the team who developed it, the process allows for up to 360TB of data capacity at temperatures of up to 1,000ºC, but can last for 13.8bn years at temperatures of around 190ºC.

Recorded onto nanostructured glass dubbed ‘Superman memory crystal’, named after the memory crystals seen in the early Superman films, the information is entered using extremely fast laser pulses written in three layers of nanostructured dots, separated by five micrometres, or one-millionth of a metre.

The breakthrough in 5D data storage has come at a time when endeavours are already being undertaken to digitise some of the world’s most valuable documents, wih the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton’s Opticks, the Magna Carta and King James’ Bible having already been stored in 5D.

Professor Peter Kazansky, from the ORC, said of the news: “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.”

Desolate world image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic