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Superman crystal ‘can secure the last evidence of civilization’

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Nanostructured glass could be the key to storing vast quantities of information on a single disc for more than a million years.

A new technology uses a femtosecond laser to record digital text in 5-D via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The five dimensions include size and orientation in addition to the 3-D coordinates of these nanostructures. The storage allows unprecedented parameters, including 360-TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000 °C and an unlimited lifetime.

The method’s developers at the University of Southampton and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands named it the Superman memory crystal after the “memory crystals” featured in the popular films.

A new technology allows unprecedented data storage, including 360-TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000 ºC and practically unlimited lifetime. Pictured here, digital data recorded into 5-D optical data storage. Photo courtesy of University of Southampton

“We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organizations with big archives,” said lead researcher Jingyu Zhang of the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC). “At the moment, companies have to back up their archives every five to 10 years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short life span. Museums [that] want to preserve information, or places like the National Archives, where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit.”

The self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass and modify its polarization, which can be read using the combination of an optical microscope and a polarizer similar to that found in sunglasses.

The investigators successfully recorded a 300-kb digital copy of a text file in 5-D using an ultrafast laser. The file was written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by 5 µm.

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race,” said professor Peter Kazansky, ORC group supervisor. “This technology can secure the last evidence of civilization: All we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The work, conducted under the European Union framework project Femtoprint, was presented at CLEO 2013. The researchers are now searching for industry partners to commercialize the technology.

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2013
fused quartz
Crystal quartz that is melted at a white heat and cooled to form an amorphous glass. It is not birefringent and the refractive index is much lower than that of crystal quartz. Fused quartz of optical quality can be prepared by suitable techniques.
nanostructured glass
A unique glass made up of nano-structured materials to create millimeter sized monolithic glass space-variant polarization converters which ultimately alter the way light propagates through and is ultimately stored in glass. This store and read technique allows for more precise laser material processing, ultra-high resolution imaging, as well as optical manipulation of atom-sized objects.
360 TB data capacity5-D digital dataAmericasCaliforniaCLEO 2013Eindhoven University of TechnologyEuropeFemtoprintfused quartzJingyu Zhanglaser writingnanonanostructured glassopticsOptoelectronics Research CentreORCPeter KazanskyResearch & TechnologyTech Pulseultrafast lasersUniversity of Southamptonlasers

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