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News & Insight

Glass Disc Holds 360TB Of Data For The Length Of The Universe Without Worry Of Loss

By Kishore Sawh on February 18th 2016

Jor-El: He will look like one of them.
Lara: He won’t *be* one of them.
Jor-El: No. His dense molecular structure will make him strong.
Lara: He’ll be odd. Different.
Jor-El: He’ll be fast. Virtually invulnerable.
Lara: Isolated. Alone.
Jor-El: He will not be alone.
[He holds up a clear crystal and takes a long look at it]

Jor-El: He will never be alone.

That, above, is the tail end of a conversation between Superman’s Kryptonian parents, just moments before their demise, and his escape. The crystal referenced, for those unfamiliar with the story, is called Sunstone Crystal, unique and critical to Superman’s home planet, Krypton. Used in building infrastructure, and more curiously for us in photography, as a data storage material. It’s in these crystals where his father embeds information about his origins, and even a holographic version of himself for Clark to interact with. They’re used, largely, as a hard drive.

That term, holographic, is particular and interesting because it echoes how a team of researchers at the University of South Hampton have devised a way to store enormous amounts of data (approx. 360 TB on a disc) in 5 dimensions on nanostructure glass, with a lifetime of around 13.8 billion years. To put that in perspective, that’s tantamount to the age of the universe. Befitting then, the group have dubbed it, ‘Superman Memory Crystal.’ Years ago, it was little more than a proof of concept, but has now materialized as more, and the creators are looking for outside collaboration to get the tech out of the lab, and into the commercial market.

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The significance of this is, of course, obvious. Our current ability to store data through digitization is not the most practical, nor stable, and there are ever growing fears that the type is so prone to corruption and possible mass loss, that our entire age of information could be subject to complete catastrophic loss. That’s a bit bleak, but this now proven ability to use femtosecond laser writing to modify the optical properties of fused quartz at the nanoscale, is a bit of light, and already many important documents like the Magna Carta, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton’s Opticks, and the King James Bible have already been ‘backed up’.

It should be understood that this isn’t exactly like the now primitive and near obsolete CDs sitting in your attic, and even reading the data back from the disc requires the laser to be pulsed again and recording the polarization of the waves with an optical microscope and polarizer. Now, I don’t know what any of that means or how that’s done, but safe to say this tech won’t be making its way into your Macbook by Autumn.

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Like the team that presented a method last year to store mountains of data within genetic material (DNA), this isn’t consumer tech, but this one seems to be on a precipice and could have massive implications for data-lovers like photographers, studios, and well, anyone else. Imagine something small, resilient, almost incorruptible like Superman himself, storing your images without any worry of loss. It’s easy if you try.

See it in action here, in the most uneventful video ever created.

Sources: University Of South Hampton, The Verge, IMDB

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Andre Queree

    So we can store them for 13.8 billion years, but will we still be able to access and read them?

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  2. Anders Madsen

    “…but safe to say this tech won’t be making its way into your Macbook by Autumn.”

    Oh COME ON! Then what’s the fun in this?!?

    ;-)

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  3. Jhon Wright

    Wow.. amazing..

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  4. Tom Blair

    I must be getting old ………what next

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  5. Steven Pellegrino

    Yeah, but in 500 million years they will change formats and then where will we be?

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  6. Colin Woods

    femtoseconds and terabytes – all these huge and tiny numbers are now coming into daily use. When I was at uni femto was used to describe nuclear radii and the like.

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  7. Joseph Cha

    henry cavill called, he wants his coasters back.

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  8. Ralph Hightower

    This looks like it is WORM storage: Write-Once-Read-Many times.

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