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Humanity’s ultimate backup – 5D discs can store data for 13.8 billion years

A new storage medium has been devised that can hold hundreds of terabytes of information for billions of years.

The question of how we preserve precious information for future generations is a persistent concern. Every digital format we use now has a surprisingly short lifespan in the grand scheme of things.

Scientists at the University of Southampton appear to have made a breakthrough with that very issue. They’ve devised a small, clear disc made of nanostructured glass that can hold five-dimensional digital data.

This 5D glass disc technology was first demonstrated back in 2013, but the process has now been perfected.

Rather than storing data on the surface of a fragile disc, such as DVDs, 5D discs store them within the chemically stable glass format. As well as being more resilient, this also means that light can be reflected back off the suspended data in more than the regular two dimensions: “the size and orientation in addition to the three-dimensional position of these nanostructures,” as the related post explains.

The resulting properties of this femtosecond laser-written 5D disc format are quite remarkable. Each coin-sized disc can hold up to 360TB of data, and it can retain that data for up to 13.8 billion years at temperatures of up to 190°C. Drop the conditions to a steady room temperature, and you’re talking a “virtually unlimited lifetime.”

Needless to say, this 5D disc format has potential applications well beyond keeping your music library backed up.

“As a very stable and safe form of portable memory,” the University explains, “the technology could be highly useful for organisations with big archives – such as national archives, museums and libraries – to preserve their information and records.”

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We’re talking all of human history, essentially. Important documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton’s Opticks, Magna Carta and the King James Bible have already been preserved in this way.

However, the team at the University of Southampton is also looking to commercialise the product, so don’t rule out future 5D disc boxset marathons.

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