The AFP news agency reports that Hitachi has discovered a way to store digital information on slivers of quartz glass. This data can seemingly exist forever, enduring extreme temperatures and hostile conditions without degrading... at least until the sun begins to die and expend to consume the earth, that is.
According to the report, the new tech stores data in binary form by creating dots inside thin sheets of quartz glass which can be read using your standard optical microscope. The current prototype is roughly 0.8-inches square and 0.08-inches thick, and consists of four layers of dots which can hold up to 40 MB per square inch -- approximately the density of a music CD. More data layers can easily be added.
Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said that quartz glass is highly stable and resilient material, used to make beakers and other instruments for laboratory use. Due to the medium, the chip is waterproof, resistant to many chemicals and unaffected by radio waves. Even more, it can be exposed directly to high temperature flames and heated to 1,832 Fahrenheit for at least two hours without being damaged.
"We believe data will survive unless this hard glass is broken," said senior researcher Takao Watanabe.
The discovery arrives as consumers push their data to the cloud. Physical media is an acceptable temporary backup, but not ideal for the long-term. Even NAND flash-based solutions won't last forever, thus pushing consumers to find ways of storing their digital photos and other personal items online. This too isn't exactly ideal, but the data is backed up by multiple servers, thus serving as a more secure solution than a simple HDD or DVD.
"The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven't necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones," Torii added. "The possibility of losing information may actually have increased."
The article doesn't state how these chips will be "read" outside using a microscope although it sounds like some kind of microscope-based reader is on the horizon. There's also no indication as to when this storage solution will become commercially available, but researchers indicated that government agencies, museums and religious organizations will likely be first in line.