Ultimate Time Capsule Tech Could Store History of Mankind 'For Eternity'

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Researchers used nanostructured glass to record five-dimensional digital data by laser writing. Optoelectronics Research Centre

A technique to store data for billions of years has been developed by researchers, who believe it could be used to record the entire history of mankind.

Scientists at the University of Southampton in the U.K. built glass discs with a shelf life of 13.8 billion years—the approximate age of the universe—when stored at 190 degrees Celsius (374 Fahrenheit), and a “virtually unlimited lifetime” at room temperature.

Each disc can handle up to 360 terabytes of data, the equivalent of 720 million photos or 684 years’ worth of uninterrupted music playback.

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,” said professor Peter Kazansky from the university’s Optoelectronics Research Centre.

“This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The scientists used a method called femtosecond laser writing to record and retrieve digital data onto small glass discs in five dimensions.

In a display of its capabilities, digital copies of the King James Bible, the Magna Carta, Newton’s Opticks and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were saved onto a disc. The scientists believe these discs will survive the human race.

Five-dimensional (5D) digital data storage—so-called because in addition to the 3D position of the data, the size and orientation is also a factor—was first demonstrated in 2013, however only a tiny amount of data was able to be recorded at the time.

Kazansky and his team will now look for commercial partners in order to develop the technology further in the hope of bringing it to market.

The research, “5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Writing in Glass”, is set to be presented at the International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.