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Optical memory technologies promise speed of light computing, energy efficient data centers, 360 TB capacity and million year lifespan

The explosion of connected devices and digital services is generating massive amounts of new  data. Digital world is growing exponentially from 4.4 zettabytes (10 21 or 1 sextillion bytes) of digital data created in 2013 to an expected 44 zettabytes by 2024. To make this data useful, it must be stored and analyzed very quickly, creating challenges for service providers and system builders who must balance cost, power and performance trade-offs when they design memory and storage solutions.

It’s far easier to generate zettabytes of data than to manufacture zettabytes of data storage capacity. A wide gap is emerging between data generation and hard drive and flash production. It is estimated that By 2020, demand for capacity will outstrip production by six zettabytes, or nearly double the demand of 2013 alone.

With the exponential growth in the capacity of information generated and the emerging need for data to be stored for prolonged period of time, there emerges a need for a storage medium with high capacity, high storage density, and possibility to withstand extreme environmental conditions.

Optical memories are used for large, storage of data. These devices provide the option of variety of data storage. These can save up to 20 GB of information. The data or information is read or written using a laser beam. Due to its low cost and high data storage capacity these memories are being freely used. Apart from low cost these memories have long life. But the problem is that of low access time.

Some examples of optical memories are CD ROM or Compact-Disk Read Only Memory are optical storage device which can be easily read by computer but not written; Erasable Optical Disks are also called CD RW or CD re writable. It gives the user the liberty of erasing data already written by burning the microscopic point on the disk surface. DVD or Digital Versatile Disk is another form of optical storage. These are higher in capacity than the CDs. Re writable DVDs DVD-RAM can be recorded and erased multiple times.

Australian and Chinese scientists demonstrate storage technology with with 10 TB capacity and 600 year lifespan

Scientists from RMIT University in Australia and the Wuhan Institute of Technology in China have used gold nanomaterials to demonstrate an optical disk with up to 10TB capacity and a six-century lifespan. This represents a storage improvement of 400 per cent over current technologies.

The researchers demonstrated optical long data memory in a novel nanoplasmonic hybrid glass matrix, different to the conventional materials used in optical discs.

Glass is a highly durable material that can last up to 1000 years and can be used to hold data, but has limited storage capacity because of its inflexibility. The team combined glass with an organic material, resulting in half the lifespan but significantly increased capacity.

Gold nanorods were incorporated into a hybrid glass composite, known as organic modified ceramic, to create the nanoplasmonic hybrid glass matrix. Gold was selected because it is robust and highly durable, like glass. Gold nanoparticles allow information to be recorded in five dimensions – the three dimensions in space plus colour and polarisation.

The technique relies on a sol-gel process, which uses chemical precursors to produce ceramics and glasses with better purity and homogeneity as compared to conventional processes.

The explosion of Big Data and cloud storage in recent years has led to a parallel rise in the requirement for power-hungry data centres. The Data centres consume about 3 per cent of the world’s electricity supply and largely rely on hard disk drives that have limited capacity of up to 2TB per disk and lifespans of up to two years.

This new technology could lead to a radical improvement in the energy efficiency of data centres – using 1000 times less power than a hard disk centre – by requiring significantly less cooling and eliminating the energy-intensive task of data migration every two years. Optical disks are also inherently more secure than hard disks.


Memory That Lasts Forever: New Quartz Coin Can Store 360TB of Data for 14 Billion Years

Developed by researchers at Southampton University in the UK, the technique uses femtosecond laser pulses to write data in the 3D structure of quartz at the nanoscale. The pulses create three layers of nanostructured dots, each just five microns above the other. The changes in the structure can be read by interrogating the sample with another pulse of light and recording its polarisation —the orientation of the waves—after it’s passed through.

The team has now written a series of major works to small glass discs— including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton’s Opticks, the Magna Carta and the Kings James Bible. The density of the data aboard these discs suggests that they could squeeze a total of 360 terabytes onto a single piece of quartz. They also point out that the data is extremely stable: It could endure for as long as 13.8 billion years at temperatures up to 157 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).


Notably, this is referred to as a 5D storage device. These include the three dimensions of space, which are responsible for describing the physical location of the dot, and two additional dimensions that are encoded by the polarity and intensity of the beam that creates the dot.


Computing at the speed of light

Natia Frank, materials chemist at the Canadian University of Victoria (UVic), recently developed a material that allows computers to write data with light instead of electric current. The material, made of a cobalt dioxolene coupled to a spirooxazine, makes possible a next-generation computer memory known as light-induced random access memory. LI-RAM would be faster than current forms of RAM, require less power, and work for both short-term data processing and long-term data storage.

“The reason we chose light is because it is one of the fastest ways to write and transfer energy and information. Less heat, less power demand, and much faster read-write speed are the major advantages of this type of technology.”

This means computer processors would consume minimal power, discharge minimal heat and last longer. Currently, information processing technologies use up about 10% of the world’s electricity resource, according to UVic, which expects LI-RAM to cut this consumption by half.

Frank says the material in LI-RAM has the unusual quality of rapidly changing magnetic properties when hit with green light. According to a media release issued by UVic, “This means that information can be processed and stored at the single molecule level, allowing for the development of universal memory — a technology that has, until now, been hypothetical.”

Besides its use for data storage in mobile phones, computers and other electronic durables, LI-RAM could come in handy “in medical imaging, solar cells, and a range of nanotechnologies”.


Holographic Memory Film Thinner Than Human Hair Could Store 1,000 DVDs

Holographic data storage is the process of using lasers to create and read a 3D holographic recreation of data in a material. Lasers can record and read millions of bits at once, give them huge speed advantages over magnetic storage systems typically seen today. It’s not widespread yet, but companies ranging from Hitachi to Nintendo have experimented with it. There have been potential problems holographic data storage however, including the wrinkle that UV light has been shown to be able to corrupt and erase data stored by previous experimental holographic methods.

Researchers from Northeast Normal University in Changchun  led by Shencheng Fu,  have developed nanoparticle-based films  that can holographically archive at least 1,000 times more data than a DVD in a 10-by-10-centimeter piece of film. Testing showed that this film, a mere 620 nanometers thick, was able to record efficiently and with a degree of high stability around UV light. The next step is attempting to use the films outside.

Not only can the films hold tremendous amounts of data, they can also retrieve that data at the speeds of 1 gigabyte per second. Most current USB 3.0 drives, for example, max out at 100 megabytes per second.

“In the future, these new films could be incorporated into a tiny storage chip that records 3D color information that could later be viewed as a 3D hologram with realistic detail,” says Shencheng Fu,


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