Lasers hitting a DVD

Photo: nikkytok / (Shutterstock)

There’s good news if you’re running out of space on your Google account. Researchers from Scientists from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology just figured out how to fit up to a petabit of data onto an optical disk by storing information in 3D. In other words, that’s 125,000 gigabytes on a single DVD-sized disk, or what experts refer to as a “big boy.”

Optical disks like DVDs and Blu-rays are cheap and durable but can’t hold much data. Until now, optical disks store data in a single layer of information that’s read using a laser. Well, you can kiss those puny disks goodbye thanks to a new technique that can read and write up to 100 layers of data in the space of just 54-nanometres, as described in a new paper published in the journal Nature.

“This could greatly reduce the footprint as well as the energy consumption of the future big data centers, providing a sustainable solution for the digital economy,” said Min Gu, a professor at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, and one of the paper’s co-authors.

In terms of volume, that’s dramatically more capacity than you can get with a flash drive or even a hybrid hard drive (HHD). To put that into perspective, a single optical disk is about 1.2 millimeters high. An array of HHD drives that could fit a petabit of data would be about 200 centimeters high. An equivalent array of Blu-Ray storage would be over 2 meters high.

The technique required the researchers to develop a brand new material, which has the easy-to-remember name dye-doped photoresist with aggregation-induced emission luminogens, or AIE-DDPR if you’re in a hurry. AIE-DDPR is a highly uniform and transparent film that lets researchers blast it with lasers at the nanoparticle scale with precision, allowing for an unprecedented storage method.

Shrinking the size and scale of data storage could have huge implications, not just for the business of the internet but also for the environmental footprint of the tech industry.

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