5D discs could preserve mankind’s knowledge for billions of years

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All things come to an end eventually, and mankind is no exception. Even if we don’t drive ourselves to extinction through the over-consumption of resources, unchecked scientific advancement, or war, on a long enough timescale, our demise is still inevitable. That being said, we can still ensure the continuity of our species, even if we’re all dead, by preserving the records of our existence for other intelligent life forms to find. However, preserving that information requires a medium that can survive for potentially billions of years after our demise, but does such a medium exist? The answer is yes, there is such a medium, one that researchers from the University of Southampton have been working on: 5D storage discs. 

It’s estimated that humans are producing the equivalent of 10 million Blu-ray discs’ worth of data every single day – and all of those ones and zeroes have to be stored somewhere. Now researchers in the UK just might have the solution: a five-dimensional (5D) digital data disc that can store 360 terabytes of data for some 13.8 billion years. To create the data disc, researchers from the University of Southampton used a process called femtosecond laser writing, which creates small discs of glass using an ultrafast laser that generates short and intense pulses of light. These pulses can write data in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by 5 micrometres (that’s 0.005 mm). So where do the five dimensions come from? First there’s the three-dimensional position of each dot within the layers, and then the extra dimensions are the size and orientation of the dot. The nanostructures created by the technology can be read using an optical microscope in tandem with a polariser (a filter designed to block specific polarisations of light). The team behind the new 5D discs says these discs could be most useful for institutions who deal with large archives: libraries, museums, and anywhere else extensive records are kept (like a Facebook data centre).

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