September 22, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Have scientists just created superman’s memory crystal? This glass disc contains 5D data – with a lifespan close to eternal.

memory crystal with the holy bible printed on itScientists at the University of Southampton have just taken us into a new era of technology by finding a way to ensure our civilisation will never be forgotten – at least not for a few billion years. The University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have evolved digital storage technology into a device so sophisticated it sounds like a something you might see in a comic book. Coined as ‘Superman memory crystals’, these tiny chips of nanostructured glass allow 360 TB storage, have a thermal stability of up to 1,000°C and an infinite lifetime at room temperature. Unless you fancy keeping it at 190°C, in which case it will only last 13.8 billion years.  memory crystal with the UN declaration of human rights printed on it

This form of eternal data archiving records five dimensional (5D) data information through the process of femtosecond laser writing. An ultrafast laser emits superfast and intense pulses of light to create a sequence of three layers of nanostructured dots. These sequences are so fine the dots are separated by only five micrometers- that’s one millionth of a meter.  The tiny nanostructures alter the path light travels through glass which modifies the polarization of light, optical microscopes and a polarizer can then be used to read this data.  

This capacity, combined with its spectacular stability, will ensure archives and major documents from our history. In other words, everything we have learnt will survive the human race and never be forgotten. Documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton’s Opticks, Magna Carta and Kings James Bible have already been immortalized through this method.

Eva Spielvogel is studying for an MSc in Science Media Production

Images: University of Southampton