Scientists Successfully Store First Document in 5D Optical Memory in Glass

11 July 2013

Scientists at the University of Southampton have successfully recorded a digital file containing 300 kb of text in nanostructured glass in a breakthrough experiment that used an ultrafast laser producing short and intense pulses of light.

The team, led by ORC researcher Jingyu Zhang, recently demonstrated for the first time how five dimensional digital data can be recorded and retrieved under a joint project with Eindhoven University of Technology. The data was recorded in self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding in the glass memory, dubbed the "Superman" memory crystal, is performed in five dimensions, namely size and orientation alongside three dimensional positions of the nanostructures. The digital file was recorded in 5D and was written in three layers of nano-dots separated by five micrometers. The technology resembles the capacities of memory crystals used in the Superman films, hence its name.

The storage method is considered to have unparalleled parameters such as unlimited lifetime, 360 TB/disc data capacity and the ability to resist 1000 °C of heat.

The self-assembled nanostructures alter the direction of light through glass, changing its polarization, and the light can then be observed by using an optical microscope and a polarizer like the one found in Polaroid sunglasses.

Commenting on the team's breakthrough, Jingyu said that their technology could help organizations with substantial archives to better organize and protect data. The glass-based stable and safe form of portable memory would eliminate the need to back up archives each five to ten years due to the relatively short lifespan of hard-drive memory, he said.

The team reported their findings at the post-deadline paper session of the Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO: 2013) last month in San Jose.