A million-year hard disk

July 13, 2012 | Source: Science Now

Star saphire (credit: Mitchell Gore/Wikipedia)

Patrick Charton of the French nuclear waste management agency ANDRA has presented one possible solution for long-term preservation of data: a sapphire disk inside which information is engraved using platinum.

The prototype shown costs €25,000 to make, but Charton says it will survive for a million years. The aim, Charton told the Euroscience Open Forum here, is to provide “information for future archaeologists.”

In 2010, ANDRA began a project to address these issues, says Charton. It brings together specialists from as wide a selection of fields as possible, including materials scientists, archivists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and even artists — “to see if they have some answers to our questions.”

The initial goal is to identify all the approaches possible; in 2014 or 2015, the group hopes to narrow down the possibilities.

The sapphire disk is one product of that effort. It’s made from two thin disks, about 20 centimeters across, of industrial sapphire. On one side, text or images are etched in platinum — Charton says a single disk can store 40,000 miniaturized pages—and then the two disks are molecularly fused together. All a future archaeologist would need to read them is a microscope. The disks have been immersed in acid to test their durability and to simulate ageing. Charton says they hope to demonstrate a lifetime of 10 million years.