Your Next Storage Device Could Last Billions of Years

You might be aware that researchers are working around the clock to figure out new and better ways for storage drives to function. 

Researchers at Southampton University in the UK have developed a data storage technique that uses laser light to store around 360 terabytes of information on nanostructured quartz for up to 14 billion years.

femtosecond laserStick with me here: the technique apparently involves using femtosecond laser pulses to write data at the nanoscale within the 3D structure of quartz. A femtosecond (fs) laser refers to an ultrashort electromagnetic pulse whose time duration is somewhere in the range of a picosecond (10^-12 second) or less.

These pulses create three layers of nanostructure dots that lie only five microns apart from one another. A micron is a unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter.

By sending another pulse of light through the nanostructured dots and reading the polarization of that light after it’s passed through the structure, any changes made to the structure can be detected. It’s in this way that data can copied extremely densely onto the disks and read.

According to the Southampton team, they’ve already written a series of important human works onto their new-fangled disks, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton’s Opticks, the Magna Carta and the King James Bible. It was through detecting the density at which the data could be written that the team figured they could copy about 360 terabytes onto a single piece of quartz.

The technique is an extremely stable way to store data; with these devices, data could be stored for billions of years longer than traditional drives and even survive temperatures up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The idea of archiving data onto quartz using femtosecond laser pulses has been around for a few years, but no previous team has figured out a way to use the technique to store data so space-efficiently. In 2012, the approach was used to store only about 40 megabytes per square inch, making it about as effective as your typical CD. Of that study the following was said by PhsyOrg:

glass“The prototype storage device is two centimetres (0.8 inches) square and just two millimetres (0.08 inches) thick and made from quartz glass, a highly stable and resilient material, used to make breakers and the instruments for laboratory use.

This chip, which is resistant to many chemicals and unaffected by radio waves, can be exposed directly to high temperature flames and heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 Fahrenheit) for at least two hours without being damaged.”

At the time, the discovery was exciting because even if the quartz wasn’t necessarily space efficient, it was so resilient and long-lasting the it still offered a never-before-seen stability to data storage.

As anyone reading this blog undoubtedly already knows, more traditional hard disk and solid-state drive designs are not meant to last more than five years or so, meaning your drive will absolutely fail at some point. Even a hard disk drive or solid-state drive left in a box and never used may undergo data degradation as a result of lacking climate control, dried oil sockets, and a variety of other issues that could easily befall a conventional drive.

With quartz glass storage, data can be kept secure for long periods of time without yielding to any kind of data-corrupting climate conditions or weather issues. It’s the first data storage option that is so secure that only the user error of actually losing the quartz piece itself could lead to data loss. Now that these quartz pieces are also the most space-efficient ways to store huge amounts of data, we can likely expect to see them show up on the market sometime in the next few years.

My question is this: When and how will Intel react to this revolutionary technology?

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