New Approach for Optical Data Storage

Xuanzhao Pan and Nick Riesen demonstrating a novel optical data storage platform based on nanocrystals. (Source:
E. Klantsataya)

Tiny, nano-sized crystals of salt encoded with data using light from a laser could be the next data storage tech­nology of choice. The researchers from the Univer­sity of South Australia and Univer­sity of Adelaide, in colla­boration with the Univer­sity of New South Wales, have demon­strated a novel and energy-efficient approach to storing data using light. “With the use of data in society increasing dramatically due to the likes of social media, cloud computing and increased smart phone adoption, existing data storage tech­nologies such as hard drive disks and solid-state storage are fast ap­proaching their limits,” says project leader Nick Riesen, a Research Fellow at the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia.

“We have entered an age where new techno­logies are required to meet the demands of 100s of terabyte or even petabyte storage. One of the most promising tech­niques of achieving this is optical data storage,” Riesen says. He and Xuanzhao Pan deve­loped a tech­nology based on nano­crystals with light-emitting properties that can be effi­ciently switched on and off in patterns that represent digital infor­mation. The researchers used lasers to alter the elec­tronic states, and therefore the fluores­cence proper­ties, of the crystals.

Their research shows that these fluores­cent nano­crystals could represent a promising alter­native to tradi­tional magnetic and solid-state  data storage or blu-ray discs. They demon­strated rewritable data storage in crystals that are 100s of times smaller than that visible with the human eye. “What makes this tech­nique for storing infor­mation using light interesting is that several bits can be stored simul­taneously. And, unlike most other optical data storage tech­niques, the data is rewritable,” says Riesen.

This multi­level data storage – storing several bits on a single crystal – opens the way for much higher storage densi­ties. The tech­nology also allows for very low-power lasers to be used, increasing its energy effi­ciency and being more practical for consumer appli­cations. “The low energy requirement also makes this system ideal for optical data storage on inte­grated elec­tronic circuits,” says Riesen.

“These results showcase the benefits of estab­lishing comple­mentary research capa­bilities and infra­structure at colla­borating univer­sities. This has been a deli­berate strategy in the photonics domain that is bearing fruit across a number of projects,” says Tanya Monro from the Univer­sity of South Australia. The tech­nology also has the potential to push forward the boun­daries of how much digital data can be stored through the deve­lopment of 3D data storage.

“We think it’s possible to extend this data storage platform to 3D techno­logies in which the nano­crystals would be embedded into a glass or polymer, making use of the glass-processing capa­bilities we have at IPAS,” says Heike Eben­dorff-Heide­priem, Univer­sity of Adelaide. “This project shows the far-reaching applications that can be achieved through trans­disciplinary research into new materials.” Riesen adds: “3D optical data storage could poten­tially allow for up to petabyte level data storage in small data cubes. To put that in perspec­tive, it is believed that the human brain can store about 2.5 peta­bytes. This new tech­nology could be a viable solution to the great challenge of overcoming the bottle­neck in data storage.” (Source: UNISA)

Reference: N. Riesen et al.: Towards rewritable multilevel optical data storage in single nanocrystals, Opt. Exp. 26, 12266 (2018); DOI: 10.1364/OE.26.012266

Link: Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing IPAS, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

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