How to store data and information for a million years
SCIENTISTS at a Research Centre of the University of Southampton have developed a form of data storage that could potentially survive for billions of years. The research consists of nanostructured glass that can record digital data in five dimensions using laser writing.
The crystal storage contains 360TB per disc and is stable at up to 1,000 degrees
The group coined the storage the “Superman memory crystal” after the crystals found in the Superman films.
“It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,” Professor Peter Kazansky, from the Optoelectronics Research Center, said in a statement. “This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization: all we’ve
The crystals have a virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature, or 13.8 billion year lifespan at 190 degrees Celsius —-the age of the Universe. In 2013, the researchers first stored a 300K text file in five dimensions using the same technology. So far, the group has encoded major documents from human history like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton’s Opticks, the Magna Carta, and the King James Bible as digital copies that could theoretically survive humans on our planet.
No info yet on the speed of data storage or the cost of the materials or lasers necessary to create these crystals. It says the storage could be useful for national archives, museums, libraries, and other organizations with tremendous amounts of data to store.
Tree of knowledge
The idea of storing information on DNA traces back to a Soviet lab in the 1960s, but the first successful implementation wasn’t achieved until 2012, when biologist George Church and his colleagues announced in the journal that they had encoded one of Church’s books in DNA. More recently the artist Joe Davis, now in residence at Church’s lab, has announced plans to encode bits of Wikipedia into a particularly old strain of apple, so that he can create “a living, literal tree of knowledge.”
DNA can store a vast amount of information in a tiny amount of organic material. “You could take all the information of the world and store it in a few grams of DNA–unimaginable with all other techniques we have,” says Grass.
Under the right conditions, DNA can also last a very long time. In 2013, a complete genome was extracted from the fossil of a 700,000 year old horse found in Canada. Inspired by fossils like these, Grass’s team embedded DNA into a dense, inorganic material–microscopic spheres of silica, with a diameter of roughly 150 nanometers–in order to protect it from humidity, oxygen, and other environmental aggressors. (The researchers encoded Switzerland’s Federal Charter of 1291 and the Methods of Mechanical Theorems by Archimedes.)
“We can prove that in these capsules, it’s as stable as in these bones, which have an excellent longevity,” he says. The team also developed a type of sunscreen for the silica capsules to block the effect of light.
The biggest danger is heat
The biggest danger to the data, however, is heat. Any chemical bond or structure you build to store information decays over time depending on temperature. Accelerated testing showed that data in glassed DNA could last 2,000 years at a temperature of around 10 degrees Celsius, but storage at -18 degrees Celsius extended its lifetime up to 2 million years.
Only 50% of hard disks will survive until their 6th birthday, according to one study. A CD might last a decade.
Like any data storage method, DNA is not error free. Reinhard Heckel, also from ETH Zurich, developed an error-correction scheme for the DNA-encoded data based on the Reed-Solomon Codes, which are widely used in consumer data storage methods like DVDs and in satellite communications.
DNA storage is expensive
Because it’s still at the research stage, and there are no commercial tools to encode data into DNA or read the stored data, DNA storage is expensive. It costs about $1,500 to encode the 83 kilobytes of documents used by Grass in testing.
For now, the number of applications that require information to be stored for a million or even a thousand years may be limited, Grass acknowledges, but practically everyone has data they want to be accessible 10 years from now. Current storage methods like CDs or hard drives simply cannot offer that guarantee. A study from Backblaze showed that only 50% of hard disks will survive until their 6th birthday. A CD might last a decade. Magnetic tape has a lifetime of a few decades when stored in the right conditions. To make it last longer, all that data must be actively maintained by regularly transferring it from one medium to another. Methods like DNA could offer not just longevity but certainty.
Storing data for long durations is one challenge. Another is ensuring that the data will even be legible to whatever civilizations discover it in the future.
This kind of translation problem isn’t new. In 1799, a group of Napoleon’s soldiers were rebuilding a fort near the Egyptian town of el-Rashid. One of the men noticed something unusual embedded in a wall that the soldiers had been ordered to demolish: a grey stone slab covered in strange markings. The slab, which later became known as the Rosetta stone, repeated the same text in three languages: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian demotic (the everyday language of ancient Egypt). Acting as a type of dictionary, the stone allowed scholars to finally decipher hieroglyphics, a language whose meaning had been lost for 2,000 years.
All long-term data storage methods face the same problem 18th-century scholars had with hieroglyphics: how to decipher data from the past. Future readers need not only a device capable of reading the physical storage medium, but also an understanding of the data encoding. In other words, our descendants will need their own Rosetta stone.
CDs and DVDs use organic, optical dyes that are vulnerable to light. Blu-rays often rely on inorganic materials but will fail when exposed to heat and humidity. M-DISC uses oxides, nitrides, and other compounds.An M-DISC can be read by any DVD or Blu-ray drive. Like other optical disks, M-DISCs keep best in a cool environment, but they will typically last for several centuries.-Internet