billion-year-data-storageIf you’ve been worried about how to preserve your digital records, you may soon be able to purchase a new optical disk that could store data for up to a billion years. To some this may seem hubristic, to others definitely not.

According to the latest gizmag report, a researcher at the University of Twente in the Netherlands has developed a new optical memory device made out of tungsten and silicon nitride that could store data for extremely long periods of time—up to a billion years.

Hopefully planet earth will not be hit by a huge asteroid or a future weapon of war that will permanently shut down the power grid between now and a billion years hence. ABC might also decide to shut down Castle, which would definitely cause a cataclysmic event.

Many of us have already discovered through experience that hard drives are very susceptible to external magnetic fields and mechanical failures with a lifespan not much longer than 10 years—too often less. Similarly, CDs, DVDs and flash drives, most definitely have their own Achilles’ heel.

Jeroen de Vries, a researcher at the University of Twente decided to solve this problem by designing his own data storing device. The materials he chose were tungsten, which can withstand very high temperatures, encased in silicon nitride, which is highly resistant to fracture and warps very little when exposed to high levels of heat.

Information is stored inside the device by etching QR codes in tungsten—these are easily decoded by today’s smartphones. It’s a very durable method because the information is still even “when up to seven percent of the date has been compromised. Each pixel of the code has also within it a second set of much smaller QR codes, with pixels of only a few microns in size.”

The researcher tested the device by heating it to a temperature of 400˚F (200˚C) for one hour and saw no visible degradation, which according to the model simulates one million years of usage and only showed some signs of deterioration when it was heated to around 820˚F (440˚C). Even after the additional heat, the tungsten was not harmed and the data was still readable.

The experiment was limited to exposure to high temperatures and, according to the researcher, may not be entirely accurate. De Vries does say that if a very stable place can be found to store the device, such as a nuclear storage facility, then the disc and the data it contains still has all the requisites to last for extremely long periods of time, on the order of millions of years.

Online backup will likely be around for a while. At the same time it’s a good reminder not to rely to heavily on flash drives, etc.

3 Comments on New optical disc could possibly store data for a billion years

  1. Barbara K. says:

    Very interesting. I agree that we will be better off with cloud storage for a while…unless they shoot for less than a billion years :-)

  2. Pat MacQueen says:

    Interesting. Seems simple and makes you wonder why someone didn’t think of it before. It would be great to make one to be around for two or three generations without file corruption. People three generations from now will have found yet another method.

  3. Jimmy H. says:

    Sounds like an useful discovery. Let’s hope they find a way to mass produce soon. Very likely the companies currently producing this stuff will be looking into this find.

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