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Magna Carta Preserved for Aeons

by glynch — last modified 23 Jun, 2016 02:22 PM

Hi-tech nanostructure memory from Southampton Uni expected to survive 'billions of years'

A special glass disc bearing a copy of Magna Carta that can survive for eternity was given to Salisbury Cathedral, 800 years to the day after Magna Carta was sealed. 

Presenting the disc to the Dean, the Very Revd June Osborne, Professor Sir David Payne, Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton, said the disc represented the meeting of history and science.

The optical disc, made of nanostructured glass, uses technology that stores vast amounts of data and is capable of surviving for billions of years. It will be displayed as part of the Cathedral’s Magna Carta Exhibition, the centrepiece of which is the UNESCO listed 1215 Charter, written on sheepskin over 800 years ago and one of one four remaining in the world.

Professor Peter Kazansky, from the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton, explains the reasons behind the presentation,  “A one-inch glass disc is inscribed with Latin and English versions of the Magna Carta. It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve vital documents and store it for unlimited periods for future generations. This technology archives one of the most significant historical documents known to the human race: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The Dean said, “We are delighted to receive this gift from the University of Southampton preserving Magna Carta. This is important new science and we are very excited to be able to share with our thousands of visitors this development, which enables encapsulation of data for all time but also reminds us of the enduring nature of Magna Carta and what is enshrined within it.”

The gift was made possible thanks to pioneering work from scientists at the ORC, opening up a new era of eternal data archiving. Their research into a ‘5D’ optical storage has for the first time created a way to retain immense quantities of data - up to 360 TB of data on a single CD sized disc; more than 7,000 times more than today’s 50-gigabyte double-layer Blu-ray capacity for 13.8 billion years.

The 5D storage has extremely high data stability as the information is recorded within structural modifications in fused quartz glass, one of the most chemically and thermally durable materials on Earth. The discs can withstand fire and temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees C (1832 degrees F). The glass can withstand direct impact of up to half a ton.

As a very stable and safe form of portable memory, the technology has the potential to transform the way that organisations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to preserve their information and records. For organisations that have to back up their archives every five to ten years, because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan, 5D optical storage - dubbed the Superman memory crystal - could be the answer.

The technology was first experimentally demonstrated in 2013 when a 300 kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D.

Now, major documents from human history such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton’s Opticks and King James Bible, have been saved as digital copies that could survive the human race. A copy of the UDHR encoded to 5D data storage was presented to UNESCO by the ORC at the International Year of Light (IYL) closing ceremony in Mexico earlier this year.

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