back to article Laser-wielding boffins develop ETERNAL MEMORY from quartz

Southampton Uni research boffins have demonstrated access to pulsed femtosecond laser-written data bits in fused nano-structured quartz glass, which can store the data for a practically unlimited time. Jingyu Zhang, a researcher at the uni's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) led the boffins of the Physical Optics Group in …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Storage Crystals

    Is it just me that sees superman like crystals with data stored on them ?!

    1. James 51

      Re: Storage Crystals

      Babylon 5 is the one that came to my mind.

    2. MrXavia
      Thumb Up

      Re: Storage Crystals

      Stargate sprang to mind for me...

    3. Joefish

      Re: Storage Crystals

      Is it just you that didn't actually read the section of the article where that was already mentioned?

      Of course you'd have to use a Krypton laser...

    4. FIA Silver badge

      Re: Storage Crystals

      "It's a FAAAKKKEEEE!"

      1. User McUser

        Re: Storage Crystals

        Any imperfections in the recording are likely a result of the explosion that destroyed Vreenak's shuttle craft.

    5. Euripides Pants

      Re: Storage Crystals

      I thought of "Land of the Lost"....

  2. Antony Riley

    Chemistry / Geology fail.

    "Calcite crystals, such as quartz, exhibit this phenomenon."

    Quartz is silicon dioxide, Calcite is calcium carbonate.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Antonymous Coward

      Re: Chemistry / Geology fail.

      Came to say the same.

      Also, rather oddly, while the article flounders between silica and calcite, the image lifted straight from the good boffs refers to glass. Methinks perhaps our courageous churnalism soviet doesn't understand what glass is made of?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Chemistry / Geology fail.

      while calcite and quartz are indeed different, they are both birefringent; I suspect a misreading of the source article which emphasized their birefringence (rather than other properties) led to the mistake

    4. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Chemistry / Geology fail.

      The article and its author are confused on several levels.

      1. As others note, quartz is silicon dioxode, calcite is calcium carbonate.

      2. Quartz is a crystal, not a glass. A crystal has a regular arrangement of atoms, glass has a random arrangement of atoms. To get the bifrefringence etc it has to be a crystal.

      Let's hope el Reg does not descend to the abysmal level of the main stream media in its science reporting. You can teach scientists to become reporters but you can't do the opposite.

  3. Z-Eden
    Thumb Up

    Obligatory B5 reference here

    "Transfer all data to crystal port..."

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quartz != Calcite

    Calcite is a carbonate.

    Quartz is SiO2


  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    >Crystal-based storage tech could kill the need for backups

    Just 'co you can't break it doesn't mean you can't lose it! Just saying! : D

    1. Eddy Ito

      Write once?

      Once data is written, can it be erased, securely, without damaging the crystal so it can be written to again?

  6. Idocrase

    Yesss! Science Fiction is HAPPENING!

    Seriously, crystals have been part of Sci-fi for decades.

    Adding this one to my list of cool sci-fi things that are on the brink of being real, or are so already, along with the Sabre engine, Google Glass, rail guns, Ion drives, energy shields (see the magnetic shielding systems Nasa wants for a Mars effort), power armor/loaders/exoskeletal suits, fusion power, autonomous robots, and neurally controlled artificial limbs...

    So excited to be living in this century. This stuff has been hinted at in the past, but always 'Decades away' and now, we caught up. It's happening.

    All we need now is a breakthrough in artificial gravity and we can get off this rock once and for all!

    1. Ninetailed

      Re: Science Fiction is HAPPENING!

      Would now be a good time to point out that we've had actual working ion drives since the 1960s?

      1. Idocrase

        Re: Science Fiction is HAPPENING!

        Which is why I qualified my statement.

    2. Captain Hogwash

      Re: "Yesss! Science Fiction is HAPPENING!"

      Yes, mass electronic surveillance is increasing all the time and fully autonomous killbots are just around the corner.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Yesss! Science Fiction is HAPPENING!"

        Killerbots or Kilobots surely?

    3. James 51

      I wish it wasn't so but we're a long way off being on the brink of a practical fusion reactor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: a long way off being on the brink of a practical fusion reactor.

        Well, we could try spending some sensible amount of money on it

        UK "big six" energy company profits before tax are about a billion pounds per year each (i.e. approx total 6 billion) . But even the US spends /under/ $500 million per year on fusion; and its total spend since 1957 or so is only about $30 billion. Hmm, what did BP have to put aside for the gulf oil spill?

        See (when it gets back up, or in the google cache) for more US figures..

        1. James 51

          Re: a long way off being on the brink of a practical fusion reactor.

          Off hand the last figure I heard was about £20, 000, 000, 000 including the compensation or people affected by the spill but BP was arguing that in court claiming a lot of spurious and exaggerated claims were being made. Doesn't stop you having an excellent point though.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: a long way off being on the brink of a practical fusion reactor.

          "UK "big six" energy company profits before tax are about a billion pounds per year each (i.e. approx total 6 billion) . But even the US spends /under/ $500 million per year on fusion; and its total spend since 1957 or so is only about $30 billion. Hmm, what did BP have to put aside for the gulf oil spill?"

          So in another 30-40 years it will be up and running then?

          Fusion energy research. The biggest producer of PhDs in fusion energy research ever discovered.

          Yay for that mr AC

      2. Captain DaFt

        fusion reactors

        "I wish it wasn't so but we're a long way off being on the brink of a practical fusion reactor."

        Can't be more than 5 years away... at least that's what they've been saying since the 'fifties!

  7. Ninetailed


    It's not clear how fast they expect "ultrafast" to actually be. Are we talking on the same sort of order as the slower tape drives? Writeable DVDs? HDDs? As high up as Flash? Slower than all of these?

    Given the focus on archiving, the implication seems to be that it'll still be at the lower end of the scale, but I can't find anything that actually says what they're expecting.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: "Ultrafast"

      It's a few days since I read the paper, but IIRC they were writing at ~1MB/s, so it would take 3.6e8 seconds (11.4 years!) to fill a 360TB disk. This is the lab prototype however, we're probably 5-10 years off commercial versions.

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: "Ultrafast"

        3,000x faster (3Gbyte, 30 Gbits) would still be over a day to fill one. About 300 times faster is about 2 weeks for 360 T byte, or a bit more than 1T byte an hour which is acceptable. Only 30x faster on a production version would still be usable, but not so nice.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Ultrafast"

          But when copying between HDD is around 100Mbs max practical speeds, the crystal storage doesn't need to work faster than that to replace the HDD for a backup medium...

          Sure SATA may operate in the Gb/s range, but I've not found a HDD that can do that (I use WD Black drives mainly due to the 5 year warranty)

          1. Arnold Lieberman

            Re: "Ultrafast"

            *You* might only be getting 100Mb/s, but there are these computer things called servers that shift data across a redundant array of inexpensive drives all at the same time. Serial read/write speeds easily in excess of 1Gb/s from DAS is possible without exotic hardware.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Ultrafast"

      "Ultrafast" refers to the laser pulse duration: femtoseconds. Nothing to do with read/write speeds, just a hardware requirement.

  8. Antonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Oh thank God!

    At last a "revolutionary new storage medium" which looks like it might actually be capable of producing backups/archives with a chance of outlasting the primary medium!!!!!!one!

    ...and fast too!

    ...and using cheap media! Lumps of common glass no less!

    Absolutely fantastic! Wonder how it'll be done. Spinning glass cylinders with the read/write heads running along a track like the very early wax gramophones? Or thick discs more like contemporary stuff?

    I hope I live to see something come of this!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Oh thank God!

      I hope I live to see something come of this!"

      IIRC IBM labs did something with storing data in crystals using laser quite some years back. In 3D no less!

      I remember thinking at the time that it was similar to the Star Trek TNG crystal data cubes. Or even the crystals in HAL in 2001:A Space Odyssey. Or ORAC in Blakes 7. And so on and so on :-).

  9. Katie Saucey
    Thumb Up


    Hopefully the Asgard still honour that protected planet treaty, Anubis won't like this one bit.

  10. Rol Silver badge

    RIAA, BPI, etc, etc...."Nooo future, noooo future, for you!"

    "Here you go son, this was your granpa's media drive, it's 300 years of entertainment in a box and not one iota came from Apple, so it's yours forever, to pass on to your children and your children's children and .....

    "Who's Apple, dad?"

    "Oh, they were around when I was your age, they owned every scrap of entertainment there was, that is, until this box of tricks came along"

    "Does it have all the Gay Laser Sharks on Acid back catalogue?"

    "But of course son"


  11. Piku

    Give it 20 years and we'll be buying these for 10 quid off eBay while laughing at our comically small multi-terabyte NAS enclosures.

    After all, 20 years ago I had an Atari ST with a double-density floppy drive and a drawer full of floppy disks and thought it fantastic because I wasn't loading data off a crappy C60 audio tape.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Give it 20 years and we'll be shuffling 1TB/hr video'/holovideo files on a regular basis and STILL complaining on there not being enough storage to go around. Because when it comes to mass storage, we ALWAYS seem to find way to fill it up.

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    ok, so we can write to a sugarlump

    or a sugarlump sized piece of glass.

    1: How big is the fecking rewriter?

    2: You's still going to need a backup. Backups are for data you care enough about to keep at least 2 copies i diffferent locations.(*)

    (*) Cue lecture about "RAID is not backup, Archiving is not backup, Replication is not backup"

  13. frank ly

    a millionth of a billionth of a second

    I think of it as a micro.nanosecond. (Or a deci.centi.milli.micro.millisecond; multipliers I'm comfortable with.)

  14. Identity

    Feel free to dismiss the following...

    About 30 years ago, some New Age-y friends of mine played an audio tape for me of a lecture by a diver who was swimming around the Bahamas after a major storm. (Note that I am not saying I believe this:) He claimed to have found the remains of a city, temporarily uncovered by the storm. In the center was some kind of hall with a round table in the center. In the center of the table was a large crystal with lines incised in it, which he brought back and was apparently showing at the lecture. It would mimic whatever was shown it, like a striped card (not in the sense of reflection — the image remained after the card was removed). He posited it was some kind of memory device or display. I haven't been able to find this story anywhere else.

  15. earl grey

    need now, before government intervention

    I need a good source to store my yottabytes of adult material. thank you.

  16. Fenton

    Is glass not a liquid?

    All-be-it one that is almost solid, over time it does very slowly deform (see windows in very very old buildings)

    1. E Haines

      Re: Is glass not a liquid?

      No, it is not. Totally busted myth, needs to die now.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Is glass not a liquid?

      No its not. I believe that myth comes from the fact that early glass was made by pouring liquid glass onto a slab so it flowed out until it cooled so the glass was thicker near the middle than the edges. When broken up to make leaded windows it makes more sense to have the thick edge at the bottom eventually leading to this myth becoming common knowledge 800 years later.

      Glass does appear to deform if you fill it with lots of beer and drink from it often enough, this is another fiction but well worth testing just in case.

  17. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Eternal memory?

    I think not - ISTR my dad showing me a quartz crystal with imperfections due to cosmic rays.

    Good luck with stopping them. So like all backups they'll need a backup.

  18. Pirate Dave

    Angus Thermopyle approves

    In the spidery recesses of my mind, I seem to remember something similar to this in Stephen R. Donaldson's "Gap" series. IIRC, ship's logs were written to immutable ruby crystals. That's about all I remember though. That, and the name Angus Thermopyle.

  19. The Grump

    Oh, please...

    not another "Gee wiz, look what's coming down the road in another twenty years or so" story. Bah humbug. If these bulls*it stories were true, I'd have my flying car by now, cold fusion would be a reality, carbon nanotube batteries would propel electric cars at 1000 miles a pop, and I would have my "Real Feel" holographic television by now.

    Look, if it's not going to be available in stores within a month or so, don't bother writing the story. Stick to writing about stuffy British Prime Ministers, porn filters, current IT, and beer. All the stuff we really case about. Especially the porn.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh, please...

      Even more underwhelming than just being another "Gee Whiz" future story..... There was research going on back on the late 1980s or early 1990s on using quartz as storage. IIRC, I read this article in Computer World, and they were predicting it wouldn't be available in products for 10 years back then.

      Perhaps someone has a blue phone box that doesn't place them at *exactly* their desired place and time?

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    All your tax records for *decades* on one indistructible package.

    It's got me excited I can tell you.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: All your tax records for *decades* on one indistructible package.

      Yeah! and everything else that could be sensitive recorded about you, indelibly recorded for someone to lose and have turn up in a bus .

      Unless it is information that is vital to you personally, in which case you will be told by a pimply clerk who is operating the system 'I'm sorry but we don't seem to have any record of you!'

  21. Steven Roper

    So that'll be another bunch of students grinding their pieces of paper then

    When I see the words "[Name] University" and "crystal storage technology" in the opening parts of a story I know that graduation time is on the way once again. The tropes are so obvious they've become cliched:

    1) It uses crystalline holographic-type technology;

    2) It uses LAZERZ!!!

    3) It offers orders of magnitude more storage space than we have now;

    4) It's orders of magnitude faster;

    5) It's orders of magnitude longer-lasting.

    Oh please. I wish they'd come up with something new to tease us with; watching the same Star Trek: University episodes year after year is getting a little hackneyed now.

    Ok, on to what this is really about: the Class of 2013 needs a subject for their theses so they can get their degrees. So they come up with yet another fantasy sci-fi holographic crystal storage device that promises the moon, like the ones covered by El Reg every year since day dot, and which will, once the pieces of paper have been handed out and the caps tossed in the air, be stuffed into an archive box and buried in the University's basement along with all the other pie-in-the-sky technologies we keep hearing about but never materialise.

    And once said students have their pieces of paper, they no doubt will all head off to their cushy jobs flipping burgers while a few lucky ones will become government IT consultants and the like. Meanwhile, we will continue using the same spinning rusty discs and CMOS chip based storage technology we've been using since the 70s, because none of these classroom fantasies ever see the light of day once graduation is over.

    Yawn. Call me when it gets out of the classroom and onto a factory floor, please.

  22. Frogmelon

    1) So would this stuff survive a close proximity nuclear pulse or a burst from a local supernova?

    2) If an exposed quartz crystal at some point in the past has been exposed to an energetic pulse under optimal conditions and crystal configuration, could this mean that there could be "photographs" or environmental data from millions of years ago stored within these crystals which could be read back with a laser? Data "trapped in amber"?

  23. E 2

    I can erase that backup very easily with a hammer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You might want to make sure you use a hammer with a wooden or rubberized handle. Quartz is piezoelectric, meaning giving it a good whack like you propose will cause it to send a current back up the head of the hammer.

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