CD-sized discs containing 500TB of data made possible by the laser write method

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Up to 500 terabytes of data can be inserted into media no larger than a CD-sized glass disc using a new laser writing method.

Developed by researchers at the University of Southampton, lasers etch tiny structures into disks that can be used for long-term “five-dimensional (5D)” optical data storage that is more than 10,000 times denser than Blu-Ray optical disc storage technology.

The new method of writing data includes two optical dimensions and three spatial dimensions.

“Individuals and organizations are generating increasingly large data sets, creating a desperate need for more efficient forms of data storage with high capacity, low power consumption and long lifespan,” said doctoral student Yuhao Lei.

“While cloud-based systems are designed more for temporary data, we believe 5D data storage in glass could be useful for longer-term data storage for national archives, museums, libraries. or private organizations. “

The new approach can write at speeds of 1,000,000 voxels per second, which is equivalent to recording approximately 230 kilobytes of data (over 100 pages of text) per second.

“The physical mechanism we use is generic,” Lei added. “Thus, we predict that this energy efficient writing method could also be used for rapid nanostructuring in transparent materials for applications in 3D integrated optics and microfluidics. “

Although the storage of 5D optical data in transparent materials has already been demonstrated, writing data fast enough and with a density high enough for real applications has proven difficult.

To overcome this hurdle, the researchers used a femtosecond laser with a high repetition rate to create tiny pits containing a single nanolaminate-like structure measuring just 500 by 50 nanometers each.

Rather than using the femtosecond laser to write directly into glass, the researchers harnessed light to produce an optical phenomenon known as near-field enhancement, in which a nano-lamella-like structure is created by a few pulses of light. weak, from an isotropic nanovide. generated by a single micro-pulse explosion. Using the near-field enhancement to fabricate the nanostructures minimized thermal damage that has been problematic for other approaches using high repetition rate lasers, the researchers said.

“This new approach improves the speed of writing data to a practical level, so that we can write tens of gigabytes of data in a reasonable amount of time,” said Lei. “Highly localized precision nanostructures allow for higher data capacity because more voxels can be written in a unit volume. In addition, the use of pulsed light reduces the energy required for writing.

The researchers used their new method to write 5 gigabytes of text data onto a silica glass disc the size of a conventional compact disc with almost 100% read accuracy. Each voxel contained four bits of information, and both voxels matched a text character. With the write density available through the method, the disk could hold 500 terabytes of data. With system upgrades that allow parallel writing, the researchers say it should be possible to write this amount of data in about 60 days.

“With the current system, we have the ability to preserve terabytes of data, which could be used, for example, to preserve information from a person’s DNA,” said Peter G. Kazansky, Principal Investigator.

Researchers are now working to increase the writing speed of their method and make the technology usable outside the lab. Faster methods of reading data will also need to be developed for practical data storage applications.

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