In continuation of the never-ending quest to find the latest and greatest in data storage technology, researchers with the University of Southampton have unveiled a fused quartz crystal -- similar to glass and dubbed the "Superman" memory crystal -- that is capable of previously unheard of storage capacities, lightning fast speed and a lifespan that is virtually unlimited.
How Does it Work?
As one might expect, the process of storing digitized data within a quartz crystal is rather complicated. The process, in a nutshell, utilizes highly efficient lasers to record a series of self-assembling nanostructures within the fused quartz crystal itself. These same lasers are then able to encode data - through a series of light pulses - in five separate dimensions, including the new properties of size and orientation added as well as the standard three dimensions.
According to the original press release, the technology of laser-encoding data into a quartz crystal is akin to the concept of light polarization. "The self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, modifying polarization of light that can then be read by combination of optical microscope and a polarizer, similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses."
Peter Kazansky, one of the project's supervisory researchers, expressed his genuine excitement about the innovative new technology. “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 civilization. All we’ve learned will not be forgotten.”
Although the technology seen in the "Superman" quartz crystal is still in its infancy, developers are projected a capacity of 360 TB per disc when this crystal is applied to a standard storage medium such as a CD-ROM, and the crystal itself is able to withstand a temperature of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, as initial studies demonstrate, the lifespan of data stored on quartz crystal is virtually infinite.
To date, the only data that has been written to a "Superman" crystal is a 300kb text file. The file itself was encoded across three layers of highly structured nanodots, each of which is separated by only one millionth of a meter. While it was a rather unexciting test, the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Jingyu Zhang, leading researcher of the technology, was quoted in the original press release as saying: "We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organizations 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." Zhang continued by pointing out some specific uses of the "Superman" memory crystal. "Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents would really benefit."
Although the technology has yet to see commercialization on any scale, Zhang and his associates are currently seeking partnerships that will allow them to achieve this goal and bring the "Superman" memory crystal to the hands of consumer computer users across the globe.
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