5D ‘Superman memory’ crystal with Jingyu Zhang

Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing. The storage allows unprecedented parameters including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime. 

I contacted Jingyu Zhang who gave us further insight into  the project. Jingyu Zhang is a student from Mainland China who started his research in Southampton after graduating from Birmingham University. He leads this project which started in 2011 from University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) which is conducted under a joint project with Eindhoven University of Technology.

Coined as the ‘Superman’ memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

“We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organisations 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,” says Jingyu.

“Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit.”

Jingyu Zhang
Jingyu Zhang is a student from Mainland China who started his research in Southampton after graduating from Birmingham University. 

Jingyu answered some further questions for us on the project:

How does the quartz glass work in regards to storing data?

Slow axis and retardance are two variables when we define the birefringence character of the crystal. The retardance and slow axis orientation are determined by intensity and polarization of the incident beam respectively.

 What has been the biggest success for you in the project?
Successfully recording the whole CLEO post-deadline paper into a piece of glass.

 Who coined it as ‘Superman Memory Crystal’ ?
Richard Gray, who did an interview about this memory in 2011, from the Telegraph.

[To view the interview – click here]

How is this changing the landscape of data storage?
 It is enabling high capacity and long-time data storage.

How will this help us in the future?
It will prevent our civilization from falling.

What are the next steps of the project?
To improve the readout system. And we are looking for industrial partner to commercialise this technique.

 If you could choose – what superhero would you be?


More on the project:
A 300 kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D using ultrafast laser, producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometres (one millionth of a metre).
The self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, modifying polarisation of light that can then be read by combination of optical microscope and a polariser, similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses.

The Physical Optics group from the ORC presented their ground-breaking paper at the photonics industry’s renowned Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO’13) in San Jose. The paper, ‘5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Nanostructuring in Glass’ was presented by the during CLEO’s prestigious post deadline session.

This work was done in the framework of EU project Femtoprint.

Professor Peter Kazansky, the ORC’s group supervisor, adds: “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 civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The team are now looking for industry partners to commercialise this ground-breaking new technology.

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