Researchers developed a new technique that writes 500GB of data into silica glass. (Image Credit: University of Hampton)
Recently, University of Hampton researchers developed an energy-efficient laser-writing technique capable of producing high-density nanostructures in silica glass. These structures can store 5D optical data 10,000 times denser than blu-ray optical disc storage technology. The team says this new approach writes at 1,000,000 voxels per second, equal to recording approximately 230 KB of data per second.
“Individuals and organizations are generating ever-larger datasets, creating the desperate need for more efficient forms of data storage with a high capacity, low energy consumption and long lifetime,” said doctoral researcher Yuhao Lei from the University of Southampton in the UK. “While cloud-based systems are designed more for temporary data, we believe that 5D data storage in glass could be useful for longer-term data storage for national archives, museums, libraries or private organizations.”
Even though 5D optical storage in transparent materials has already been achieved, it’s still difficult to quickly write data with a high density for real-world applications. To overcome this obstacle, the researchers utilized a femtosecond laser that features a high repetitive rate. It produces small pits with an individual nanolamella-like structure that measures 500 x 50 nm each.
Instead of using the femtosecond laser to write in the glass, the team harnessed the light to generate near-field enhancement from an isotropic nanovoid produced by a single pulse microexplosion. In this case, the nanolamella-like structure can be created through weak light pulses. This approach caused very little thermal damage, which has been an issue for other high-repetition-rate lasers.
Each structure creates birefringence, characterized by the light’s slow axis orientation and retardance strength. The light’s polarization and intensity control the slow axis orientation and retardance strength while data is being recorded into the glass.
“This new approach improves the data writing speed to a practical level, so we can write tens of gigabytes of data in a reasonable time,” said Lei. “The highly localized, precision nanostructures enable a higher data capacity because more voxels can be written in a unit volume. In addition, using pulsed light reduces the energy needed for writing.”
The team used this new technique to write 5 GB of text onto a silica glass disc, the same size as a traditional compact disc. Each voxel has four bits of data, and every two voxels correspond to a text character. This writing technique provides the disc with 500TB of data storage. The team also says that upgrading the system with parallel writing would allow it to write 500TB in 60 days.
“With the current system, we can preserve terabytes of data, which could be used, for example, to preserve information from a person’s DNA,” said Peter G. Kazansky, leader of the researcher team.
Now, the team is focusing on increasing the system’s writing speed and making the technology available outside of the laboratory.
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