MM Blog: 5D Printed Data Discs

A look at five-dimensional data storage that could last 13.8 billion years.

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If you’re like me, the thought of another new data format just sounds exhausting. I mean I just finished converting my cassettes, minidiscs and CDs to digital only to watch vinyl make a comeback. We move our photos to a Cloud or app that shuts down a year later and I have no idea what is happening with video these days. So what will be left for future generations after the last book rots and the last thumb drive fails?

Well scientists from the University of Southhampton in the UK have created yet another data format. The method, called five-dimensional data storage, encodes information in tiny nanostructures in glass with a standard-sized disc able to store around 360 terabytes of data. The glass discs have an estimated 13.8 billion year lifespan. 

Where a CD can be eroded either by physical scratches, scuffs, or by exposure to oxygen, heat and humidity, these discs have such a long lifespan because glass is chemically stable and needs a lot of heat to melt or warp it.

5D discs store information within their interior using tiny physical structures known as "nanogratings." The changes to the light can be read to obtain pieces of information about the nanograting's orientation, the strength of the light it refracts, and its location in space on the x, y, and z axes—hence the five-dimensions. With today’s Blu-ray’s able to hold 128GBs of data, the same sized 5D disc could store 3,000 times that.


Are 5D discs the answer to our long-term data storage problems? How could companies utilize such technology to run more efficiently?

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