UPDATED 07:09 EST / JUNE 21 2013


How to Squeeze 1,000 Terabytes of Data onto a Single DVD

DVDs and Blu-ray discs probably don’t get as much respect as they deserve from technophiles, simply because the amount of data they can store in comparison to hard drives or flash is minuscule. But that could be about to change thanks to researchers at Swinburne University in Australia, who believe they’ve found a way to store up to a year’s worth of video – or 1,000 terabytes of data – on a single optical disk.

This would be great news – and not just for movies buffs – but also for Big Data hogging companies like Google and Facebook who’re constantly on the lookout for ways to store data in the least amount of space.

The research, which was published in Nature Communications, explains that to store data on conventional DVDs and Blu-rays a single laser is used to burn a mark into the surface of that disk, effectively altering its chemistry. Each mark represents a 1 or a 0 – so in other words they use the basic binary language that all computer data is based upon. The problem with DVDs and Blu-rays is that you can only fit so many of these ‘marks’ onto a single disk, as they cannot be made any smaller than half the wavelength of the laser beam.

But the researchers at Swimburne, led by Min Gu, professor of optoelectronics, now believes its possible to massively expand the amount of space on a single disk, by using two lasers instead of one.

The way it works is that each laser beams a slightly different wavelength of light onto the DVD. The first laser beams light in the near-infrared spectrum, just like traditional DVD lasers do. However, the second laser beam uses the violet spectrum in order to “interfere” with the near-infrared beam. The researchers found that by doing so, they were able to shrink the size of the ‘mark’ burned onto the disk dramatically, reducing it to just nine nanometers – just one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. In theory, this should allow up to 1,000 terebytes of data to be stored on a single disk – by way of comparison, regular DVDs hold just 4.7GB of data, while Blu-rays can store up to 50GB.

It gets even better, because the lasers used by the team are said to be more or less the same as those we use in today’s DVD burners, and so this new method wouldn’t require the development of any new technology.

With any luck, it won’t be too much longer until the kind of ‘massive’ storage capacity provided by Blu-ray disks seems as insignificant as a 1.4MB floppy disk.

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