Scientists at the University of Southampton have developed a 5D glass disc that can store 360 Terabytes of data and have billions of years of life expectancy.
Scientists from the University of Southampton in the UK have created a new data format that encodes information in tiny nanostructures in glass. A standard-sized disc can store around 360 terabytes of data, with an estimated lifespan of up to 13.8 billion years even at temperatures of 190°C. That's as old as the Universe and more than three times the age of the Earth.
The method is called five-dimensional data storage and was first demonstrated in a paper in 2013. Since then, the scientists behind it say they've more or less perfected their technique, and are now looking to move the technology forward and perhaps even commercialize it. "We can encode anything," Aabid Patel, a postgraduate student involved in the research tells The Verge. "We’re not limited to anything just give us the file and we can print it [onto a disc]."
5D discs, by comparison, store information within their interior using tiny physical structures known as "nanogratings." Much like those bumpy lines in the CDs, these change how light is reflected, but instead of doing so in just two "dimensions," the reflected light encodes five — hence the name. The changes to the light can be read to obtain pieces of information about the nanograting's orientation, the strength of the light it refracts, and its location in space on the x, y, and z axes. These extra dimensions are why 5D discs can store data so densely compared to regular optical discs. A Blu-ray disc can hold up to 128GBs of data (the same as the biggest iPhone), while a 5D disc of the same size could store nearly 3,000 times that: 360 terabytes of information.
These discs can potentially last for so long because glass is a tough material that needs a lot of heat to melt or warp, and it's chemically stable too. (Think about all those science experiments that use glass beakers to contain reactive materials without anything bad happening to them.) This makes the 5D discs safe up to temperatures of 1,000°C, say the researchers.