Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Billion year lifetime data storage medium

The common optical, magnetic and flash memory based storage media all have limited lifetime, measured in at best a few decades. Now, scientists have investigated the use of a silicon-nitride and tungsten based medium which will enable a storage medium capable of having a lifetime of a billion years.

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For most people, the lifetimes offered by conventional storage media such as magnetic hard drives, flash memory drives, and optical media (CDs/DVDs/BluRays) are more than sufficient even though they typically only last a few decades. However, certain data require more secure and long-time storage of, such as those related to our cultural heritage. 

Now, German and Dutch scientists have managed to create a wolfram-based medium coated with a thin film of silicon-nitride, that can be used to store digital data for a billion years. The choice of wolfram was taken due to the fact that it has the highest melting point out of all metals and by encapsulating the wolfram with silicon-nitride, oxidation of it was minimized.

Obviously, real-life testing of the lifetime of the storage media is not practical. But according to accelerated ageing tests, such as baking the media in an oven and exposing it to generally harsh environments, the medium does seem robust and very promising to store data for extended periods of time.

The full research article is available on arXiv.org and contains the details for those that are interested.

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