Researchers use nanotech to create 'fifth dimension' data storage

New DVD technology can hold 1.6TB of data per disc

A team of researchers from an Australian university has developed a new DVD technology that could someday boost disc capacity by 10,000 times beyond today's standard 4.7GB DVDs, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, in Melbourne, said the technology, dubbed Multiplexed optical recording, can create a "fifth dimension" of recording using polarization and gold nanorods to reflect light, boosting data density beyond 1012 bits per centimeter. The team was able to store 1.6TB of data on a disk with the technology, and said that someday the technique could yield up to 10TB on a single DVD-type disk.

"We were able to show how nanostructured material can be incorporated onto a disc in order to increase data capacity without increasing the physical size of the disc," said professor Min Gu, one of the three researchers who co-authored the paper on the technology.

The most highly advanced optical storage platters today use three-dimensional technology, where bits burned into the substrate material can be read both on the surface as well as throughout the platter. Three-dimensional technology uses a single color laser beam or light wavelength to read the data in the form of bits on a platter. By using nanotechnology in the form of small gold rods that reflect light, the researchers from Swinburne University, were able to create a spectral or color dimension in addition to a polarization dimension, adding two dimensions beyond 3D.

To create the color dimension, the researchers inserted gold nanorods onto a disc's surface. Because nanoparticles react to light according to their shape, this allowed the researchers to record information in a range of different color wavelengths on the same physical disc location.

The polarization dimension was created when researchers projected light waves onto the disc and the direction of the electric field contained in the light waves aligned with the gold nanorods. That allowed the researchers to record different layers of information at different angles.

"The polarization can be rotated 360 degrees. We were, for example, able to record at zero degree polarization. Then on top of that, were able to record another layer of information at 90 degrees polarization, without them interfering with each other," said researcher James Chon.

Even a 1TB disc created with the technology would provide enough capacity to hold 300 feature length films or 250,000 songs.

One hurdle facing the researchers is a lack of suitable recording medium that would afford the speed needed to write to the discs. However the researchers are confident the discs will be commercially available within five to 10 years.

The team also said the technology is likely to have immediate applications in a range of fields, such as storing extremely large medical files like MRIs, and could be a boon in the financial, military and security arenas.

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Lucas Mearian

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