Record the History of Mankind with 5D Data Storage

5d storage

Photographs fade, books deteriorate, and hard drives eventually fail, but imagine if you could preserve your precious memories for up to 13.8 billion years? Scientists from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have made this a possibility with the creation of a new data format in the form of a tiny glass disc known as five-dimensional data storage.


About 5D Data Storage

First demonstrated in a paper published in 2013 by Jingyu Zhang, Mindaugas Geceviciusm, Martynas Beresna, and Peter G. Kazansky, 5-D data storage encodes information in tiny nanostructures in glass. The standard-sized disc stores around 360 terabytes of data and has a lifespan of up to 13.8 billion years when properly stored (at temperatures of 190 degrees Celsius). Scientists from the University of Southampton have created digital 5D copies of famous documents such as the King James Bible, Isaac Newton’s Opticks, and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in an attempt to demonstrate the format’s effectiveness.


How Do They Work?

5D data storage is most easily explained through its comparison to a compact disc. A normal CD is read by shining a laser at a tiny line with bumps in it. Whenever the laser hits a bump the light is reflected back and recorded as a 1; when there is no bump, it is recorded as a 0- similar to a light switch where 1 is on and 0 is off. The reason that CDs have such a short lifespan is due to the fact that the bumpy line is store on the surface of the CD, making it vulnerable to erosion, scratches, and scuffs.


5D discs use internal nanogratings to store information. Nanogratings are comparable to the bumpy external lines on CDs, only they are tiny structures located inside the disc. These nanogratings change how light is reflected in 5 different dimensions (compared to the CD’s 2 dimensions: 1 or 0). The changes in light can be read to obtain information about the nanograting’s orientation, the strength of the light it refracts, and its location in space on the x,y, and z axes. These extra dimensions are the reason why 5D discs can store such a large amount of data: a Blu-ray disc of the same size can hold only 128GBs of data, while a 5D disc can hold up to 360 terabytes of information; 3,000 times the capacity of the Blu-ray disc. The reason why the 5D discs can last for so long is due to what they are made from. The glass is a tough material that is chemically stable and requires temperatures to reach a jaw-dropping 1,000 degrees Celsius in order to affect the disc.


What Does This Mean?

The most obvious appeal of the 5D disc comes from museums and galleries with extremely large archives. However, commercial availability may not be too far-fetched. Expensive lasers are needed to fabricate the discs, and they most likely won’t be moving out of the lab anytime soon. With that being said, scientists claim that a device equivalent to a DVD player designed for 5D information can read the discs relatively easily. Aabid Patel, a post-graduate student involved in the research claims that the concept and development of said “5D player” is ready to go and is now just a matter of developing the technology to make it available for commercial purposes.


Storing data in discs that have the potential to outlive the Earth may sound crazy, but rival competitors are racing to introduce new storage mediums that make 5D discs sound simple. Hitachi is currently working on its own form of glass-based data storage, and in 2014, researchers simulated a “liquid hard drive” that would use nanoparticles suspended in a solution to store data.


With the future of digital storage currently unknown, Patel leaves us with this statement: “Who knows what’s going to happen thousands of years down the line, no one can predict that. But what we can guarantee is that we have the ability to store the culture, language, and essence of the human race in a simple piece of glass. For future civilizations- or whatever else is out there.”


…Pretty cool, huh?