‘Superman’ crystal memory could outlast civilization

‘Superman’ crystal memory could outlast civilization

Summary: A computer ‘memory crystal which has been developed in the UK could end up outliving the entire human race and survive for one million years without any information being lost, according to some experts.


Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

Credit: Paolo Neo

The storage allows unprecedented parameters including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.

The memory crystal is an incredibly advanced form of computer memory.

It can store digital information across five dimensions: the three dimensions of space, and two extra dimensions (polarization and intensity) facilitated by crystal lattice.

The statistics regarding the ‘5D memory solution’ are incredible.

They are so mind-blowing, that it has been nicknamed the ‘Superman’ memory crystal, as it mimics the superhuman glass memory device that was used in many of the comic book hero’s movies to store masses of data.

360 terabytes of data can be written onto a single disc; memory equivalent to around 500,000 traditional CD storage devices, or 80,000 DVDs.

Data is laid on tracks which are separated by a millionth of a metre, and each bit of data has up to 256 variable states, which according to Jingyu Zhang, postgraduate student from Southampton University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) gives five dimensions of memory.

The predicted writing speed could eventually reach several gigabits per second if magneto-optical spatial light modulation, or MOSLM, is used.

Coined as the ‘Superman’ memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films.

The data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years.

The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race. This technology can secure the last evidence of civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.” ~ Professor Peter Kazansky, group supervisor, ORC

Fused quartz created from practically pure silica is used as the core component.

Data is etched into the surface of the crystal with a femtosecond laser light moving at super speed.

A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second, so the laser would be able to move as quickly as the Man of Steel himself.

The crystal is highly stable and could withstand temperatures of around 1,000C, or 1832F, fuelling speculation that the data storage system could outlast the end of civilization.

Organizations who would most likely make use of the highly specialised and voluminous memory would be museums.

Museums have extensive archives of information, huge corporate organizations which create new data every day and national archives across the world.

With current memory solutions, many organizations need to back up their devices every five years because hard-drive memory has a short lifespan in comparison with the lifetime guarantee that would almost certainly be supplied with the crystal memory. 

The development has been the first time in history that scientists have been able to store information in glass and then retrieve that information again.

“We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organisations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan,” says Zhang.

The last effort to create this form of technology resulted in a piece of glass which could store around 50GB of data.

The new ‘Superman’ crystal memory can store more than seven times that amount, demonstrating exactly how quickly the world of technology and computer memory is moving.

Now we only need to wait for the everlasting kryptonite data destruction crystal to appear… 

Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech, Storage

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  • Blasted!!!

    Nanostructutured glass!!! Of course, how could I have been so blind. It was obvious all along! And all this time I have been trying to leverage diamond lattices, compound polymers and pico-morphic-matrices in my fruitless attempts to store and retrieve five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

    I... must... steal this research! Once it is in my hands, I will have the power to defeat the Justice League once and for all, take over Superman's Fortress of Solitude and RULE THE WORLD!!!! Ha, ha, ha, ha!
    • Thank you, Mr. Luthor

      But you should really fire your stupid henchman for revealing your true identity (you do delegate posting to websites to subordinates, don't you?).
      John L. Ries
    • Evil Genius

      I am not sure which is worse: you delusions of grandure or me understanding what you're trying to do
      • You clearly don't read enough comic books

        John L. Ries
        • Reading?

          What's this reading you are talking about? I get my information telepathically...
  • All that remains of humanity on a single crystal

    In one million years, an advanced cockroach finds this crystal and thinks, "this is pretty", and promptly takes it to a local jeweler to be attached to a ring. Later that week, while wearing the ring at a party, the cockroach is ridiculed for wearing costume jewelry. The next day, the ring along with the crystal are thrown in the trash.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Only cool if you can throw it

    and make it into a giant arctic supercomputer that speaks with Marlon Brando's voice. :)
  • Some odd phrasing...

    "Data is laid on tracks which are separated by a millionth of a metre, and each bit of data has up to 256 variable states,..."

    Some oddness - millionth of a metre is millimeter.

    And "each bit of data" is usually understood to be binary. I think would be clearer to say "each piece of data", as it is referring to a 256 valued state.
    • Hmmm.... nope

      A millionth of a meter (10^-6 meter) is a MicroMeter aka "Micron".

      A millimeter is a thousandth of a meter (10^-3)
  • Historian's dream

    And may provide plenty of space for storing old project files.
    John L. Ries
  • Finally...

    A way to back up my server.
  • Will the Superman creators sue for infringement?

    Otherwise, this is super-cool...

    Pity about civilization though, where we place things over people. That doesn't make us very... civilized.
    • Don't forget,

      IBM was sued over OS/2 "WARP", and without sci-fi, no company would have made any handheld tablet.

      Creative minds come up with ideas. Technical minds take creative ideas into reality. Research minds see how the system works. It's hard to find one person who can do ALL of these disparate tasks, and most can't: Because the third human province is marketing, which also involves acting - selling an illusion. Politicians, car salesmen, CEOs, and others all have the marketing trait
      • oops

        "Fourth human province" - I need to proofread more. :~)
    • They're dead

      Maybe Time/Warner (owners of DC Comics) will, but I doubt it.
      John L. Ries
      • Because DC Comics holds a "design patent" on all crystal memories?

        Or because the crystals in those Superman films were explicitly described as "nanostructured glass"?

        Have the patent wars really sunk so low?
    • No, Samsung will use it as prior art.

      And they will start cranking out cheap versions claiming if was obvious and Superman movies represent prior art.
  • 7 x 50GB is only 350GB which is no where near

    Johnny Vegas
  • How fragile is it?

    "Using nanostructured glass, ..."

    I wonder how far you can drop something like this, and still have its data survive intact?
    • Zogg: "How fragile is it?"

      Or, since the article discusses the discs outlasting civilization, how will they fare after being dumped and buried in landfills for a million years?
      Rabid Howler Monkey