(Source: Warner Bros.)
Bye bye Blu-ray? Glass based discs written with femtosecond lasers could blow away current optical media

Jingyu Zhang, a UK professor at the Univ. of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre, is not satisfied with today's optical media that maxes out at 128 gigabytes (GB) for "BDXL" Blu-Ray multi-layer discs.  With the help of collaborators at the Netherland's Eindhoven University of Technology, he's cooking up new "Superman crystal" discs, which could one day hold 360 terabytes (TB) per disc.

Prof. Zhang describes, "We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organisations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan.  Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit."

Much like the fictional device Superman's scientist birth father Jor-el used to store memories of Kryptonian culture for his son, the new storage media is composed of crystals that can store data for over a million years.  The crystal disc can even survive intense temperatures of up to 1000 °C.  The data is stored in trillions of tiny fused quartz crystals -- also known as nanostructured glass.

Superman fortress of solitude
Memory crystals in Superman's "Fortress of Solitude" [Image Source: Warner Bros.]

The silicon-based storage layer uses a femtosecond laser to created "5D" (five dimensional) storage that writes data with five impendent variables -- crystal position in 3D coordinates (x, y, z), the size of the crystal, and the orientation.  The five variables change the polarization of light, which is then read by a combination of a microscope and polarizer (a device commonly found in Polaroid sunglasses).

Currently, the researchers have only recorded a 300 KB file as a tech demonstration, which used three layers of nanocrystalline dots (with a 5 µm spacer separating dots).

ORC Prof. Zhang ORC layered write
Prof. Jingyu Zhang (left) and his new crystal storage technology. [Image Source: ORC]

Significant technological hurdles must be overcome to productize the technology -- most notably advancing femtosecond laser and microscopy technology to the point where the entire reader/writer can be incorporated into a compact, mass-producible package.

The research -- sponsored by the European Union's Femtoprint project -- was presented [PDF]  as a conference paper at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO’13) in San Jose.

Prof. Peter Kazansky, the ORC’s dean, comments, "It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race. This technology can secure the last evidence of civilisation: all we've learnt will not be forgotten."

Sources: Univ. of Southampton ORC, CLEO'13 [Paper]

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