Using the latest lasers, scientists at the University of Southampton have made a breakthrough in data storage, enabling incredible density and durability of recording and storage.
The new technology can store 500 terabytes on a single CD-ROM-sized medium. The creators anticipate their invention will be used to store everything from museum and library information to personal biological data.
The technology is called five-dimensional (5D) optical storage. The University of Southampton team has been working on it for quite some time. The first versions were demonstrated back in 2013, and at that early stage the researchers successfully used the format to record and retrieve a 300kb text file, although they had much bigger ambitions.
The data are recorded using a femtosecond laser, which emits incredibly short but powerful pulses of light, forming tiny (nanoscale) structures in the glass. These structures contain information about the intensity and polarization of the laser beam, in addition to their three spatial dimensions. This is why the scientists call their technology "5D data storage".
In 2015, the team demonstrated their success in using the technology to store digital copies of popular documents, revealing other qualities of the system. Unlike conventional hard drive memory, which is vulnerable to high temperatures, moisture, magnetic fields and mechanical damage, this "forever" 5D data storage promises incredible thermal stability and virtually unlimited life at room temperature.
At the time, scientists still had to work on the ability to write data at high enough speeds and densities for real-world applications. Now the researchers say they have made progress through the application of an optical phenomenon called near-field amplification.
This allows them to create nanostructures using a few weak pulses of light instead of writing directly with a femtosecond laser. This allows data to be written at 1,000,000 voxels per second, the equivalent of 230 kb of data or more than 100 pages of text per second.
Illustration: University of Southampton