Today’s art, literature, and scientific data could be preserved in glass forever—or 13.8 billion years, to be precise. Scientists at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have created a new form of portable memory storage that is extremely safe and stable. A one-inch glass disk can store 360 terabytes of data, to preserve information and records for billions of years, even if the disk is exposed to harsh conditions and high temperatures.
An ultrafast laser etches structures made of tiny dots in the middle of the glass disk. These nanostructures change the way light is reflected in the glass. The disk can then be read by a combination of an optical microscope and an optical filter that is similar to the kind that is used in polarized sunglasses. The researchers call this 5D data storage, because the information is encoded by measuring five dimensions of the reflected light: size, length, and its location on three different axes.
The researchers first demonstrated their 5D memory disks back in 2013, and now that they have had time to perfect their technique, they say they are ready to look for commercial partners. “It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,” researcher Peter Kazansky, said in a statement. “This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”