A simple square of glass may hold the key to the vexing problem of storing data indefinitely. Developed by Hitachi, the technology prints a binary series of dots upon a sliver of quartz glass which can then be easily read with a common microscope. It sounds simple enough, and that is exactly the point – the data can be easily accessed no matter what the future technologies of the digital age bring. Even better, the data is safe from fire, chemicals, and water – almost anything, except perhaps a hammer.
As the digital age has discarded physical forms of data storage in favor of more dense and delicate forms that require increasingly sophisticated equipment, it has left many institutions in a quandary. Media breaks down – and what happens when they archive information which they will not be able to retrieve in the future? After all blu-ray will become as popular as the 8-Track in a few decades.
The solution of printing binary code onto quartz glass is not too dissimilar to records. There may not be commercialized technology available to get the data, but the simplicity of the format makes creating a retrieval system very straightforward. Just as adding a needle to a spinning record will produce sound, placing the binary code into any computer with a simple program allows users access to the data — all you need is an optical microscope to get to the information.
The chip uses common quartz glass made for beakers and measures a scant 2 millimeters thick and 2 centimeters square. Four layers of dots are sandwiched together, resulting in a data density of 40 megabytes to the square inch, or enough to hold a CDs worth of information. The glass is stable under heat up to 1832 degrees Fahrenheit, and it resists most chemicals and water.
Hitachi plans to increase the amount of data that can be stored while maintaining the optical characteristics of the glass. Perhaps then disco really can live forever.