Imagine a world where you can literally store the entirety of the world’s history in your jeans pocket. Forever. Well, that world is here and that time is now. Researchers have not only already discovered – but have now improved upon – a way to store huge amounts of data on tiny slivers of quartz, not much larger than a quarter. The lifespan for these micro hard drives? If you’d had one at the Big Bang it would still be going strong.
Researchers at Southampton University of in the UK have improved upon a process first announced four years ago, whereby femtosecond laser pulses are used to inscribe binary data on nano-structured quartz crystals. Back in early 2012, the slivers were capable of storing 40 MB per square inch – about the same as a CD – for a period of 300 million years. Today’s breakthrough ups those numbers to 360 TB of data for 14 billion years.
The tiny discs, which are smaller than a half dollar, are only a few millimeters thick and presumably quite cheap. After all, they are just quartz discs. The process used to inscribe them isn’t so pedestrian though. Data is recorded “using ultrafast laser, producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nano-structured dots separated by five micrometers (one millionth of a meter).”
Because we’re essentially talking about glass here, the discs are incredibly resilient: waterproof, able to withstand heat up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit or the cold of interstellar space, with a “virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190°C )”. As the researchers note, because 5D digital data is “a very stable and safe form of portable memory, the technology could be highly useful for organizations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to preserve their information and records.”
Various important texts including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Magna Carta have already been inscribed on these so-called “Superman memory crystals” and could ultimately be the means through which humanity is understood long after the human race has perished. Because the sun will die in roughly five billion years, we had better find a new home before then if we want to make full use of this eternal storage solution.
What applications do you see for quartz memory?