Alright folks, prepare yourselves: it’s hard science time!
Something amazing has happened. We have discovered a way to store immense amounts of data in a very small space in such a way that it DOESN’T DECAY.
Check it out. (https://futuristech.info/posts/eternal-data-archiving-with-5d-nanostructured-glass-holds-360-tb-and-could-last-for-billions-of-years)[https://futuristech.info/posts/eternal-data-archiving-with-5d-nanostructured-glass-holds-360-tb-and-could-last-for-billions-of-years]
If you didn’t click the link (Just click the link! It’s not hard!), the attached article is an abstract for a project being developed by the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre. They have discovered a way to store data in nanostructured glass that can allow up to 360TB of information to be encoded in a single disc that is only about an inch in diameter. Seriously.
And that’s not all. The data is extremely stable. At room temperatures the information could theoretically stay completely uncorrupted indefinitely. As in, FOREVER. And before you start protesting that no one is going to be able to keep a storage facility at a consistent temperature forever, the sort of instability at high temperatures that we’re talking about here is in the range of 190°C (just a bit hotter then your attic gets in summer), at which point the data may decay in something like 13.8 billion years. Which, btw, is approximately the current age of the universe.
So, functionally this is an eternal storage medium.
How does it work, you ask. Well…it has something to do with lasers and light polarization, I’m sure of that much.
When it comes to project abstracts, you know you’re reading a good one when you have to stop to look up a word, then you have to look up one of the words you find in the definition of the first word. Seriously, the explanation of what is happening here is a bit on the obscure side.
But here’s what I’ve been able to gather (and if I get anything wrong, I’m sorry, I never claimed to be an expert in advanced optics). Basically, what we’re doing here is using lasers to change the way the glass disk refracts light. Which on its own doesn’t sound that revolutionary, since that’s basically how CDs work. BUT the process is so refined, that we are actually encoding the disk in 5 dimensions.
What the hell does that mean, you ask. Good question. Let’s break it down.
First we have the normal three spatial dimensions, right? Then…wait, how much do you understand about light waves and polarization?
The other two dimension that we can affect here have to do with something called birefringence. That’s the first word I had to look up. Google helpfully offered me the following definition:
Birefringence is the optical property of a material having a refractive index that depends on the polarization and propagation direction of light. These optically anisotropic materials are said to be birefringent (or birefractive).
…At which point I went to look up anisotropic. But I’m going to skip all that, and just try to summarize.
Basically, the glass can affect the waveforms of the light passing through it in two additional ways in addition to its spatial coordinates. Those two ways are called the slow axis rotation, and the strength of retardance. But the takeaway here is that there are five different ways that the glass can change the light that passes through it, so that’s five dimensions of data encoding.
Those five dimensions are why we can get so much information into such a small space. And because the information is being stored by fluctuations in glass (well, fused quartz…but basically super hard glass), and glass is a particularly stable medium, what we wind up with is the data storage medium of the future. Seriously, folks, this is the stuff of science fiction. In fact, it’s being compared to the memory crystals from Superman.
You know what this means, don’t you? It means I can finally write that spy-thriller with the last line, “But Professor Ginsburg doesn’t wear a monocle!” It’s about bloody time, let me tell you.
But seriously…the future, guys. It’s here. Now.