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Data for the 31st Century

New tech lets us store data for centuries, but no one wants it

3 min read
Data for the 31st Century
Disc of Destiny: Using alterations in the way quartz refracts light, we could store data in a superdense form for centuries.
Photo: University of Southampton

Computer scientist Peter Kazansky at the University of Southampton, in England, has some words for the ages. He and a group of collaborators wrote them in quartz crystal using new optical techniques that could preserve the text for millennia. The message, which consisted of the abstract of the paper announcing the work, is stored as two types of alterations in the way quartz glass refracts light. The combination of the two allows for data-storage densities as high as 360 terabytes per disc, or more than 7000 times today’s 50-gigabyte double-layer Blu-ray capacity.

There’s always a catch, though. Reading the message requires an electron microscope, and the process may never provide faster access to stored data than existing technology can. This and similar over-the-horizon memory research may someday improve big-data storage, but such systems aren’t an easy fit with today’s data-storage needs, experts say. Improved density and durability are both helpful, but readability and the capacity to rewrite data in a different format might be more important.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan
LightGreen

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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