Japanese Research Team Discovers New ‘Super Disc’ Material
In today’s wired world, the need for reliable, high-capacity data storage is greater than ever. Our appetite for digital downloads and high-definition content has outgrown the storage capacities of blank CD and DVD discs long ago. Even Blu-ray discs, now a 4-year old technology, seem insufficient in a world where terabyte-sized hard drives have dropped into the sub-$100 dollar price range.
What will the future of data storage bring? Will it be high-capacity solid-state drives, or perhaps holographic data storage? As it turns out, the future of data storage might be yet another optical disc format.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo in Japan have recently announced a breakthrough in developing new chemicals that make storing information on optical discs possible. The results were published earlier this year in Nature Chemistry, an international scientific journal established over 140 years ago.
Here’s how it works: when a CD or DVD disc is “burned,” a laser beam is focused on a layer of organic dye that crystallizes at a known rate. The dye undergoes a “phase change” and becomes either a pit or a land, each of which represents one “bit” of data.
Currently, Blu-ray discs use a chemical in their dye layer called germanium-antimony-tellurium (GeSbTe), or GST for short. GST works very well for storing information because it is non-volatile, can be overwritten, and can retain data for 10+ years.
Advances in manufacturing have driven the cost of manufacturing GST-based Blu-ray discs down tremendously during the past few years. Blank recordable Blu-ray discs that once cost $25 dollars each are now available for as little as $2 to $3 per disc from online retailers such as CDROM2GO. Despite these major price reductions, the industry continues to push for higher capacity storage at a lower cost.
That’s what makes this announcement so significant. Researchers led by Professor Shin-ichi Ohkoshi have created a new phase-change material that uses a crystallized form of titanium oxide. If this material is used in optical storage, it would cost about 100 times less than a Blu-ray disc made with GST, according to one estimate.
Better yet, Ohkoshi’s team have succeeded in producing these titanium oxide crystals at incomprehensibly small sizes. How small? Try anywhere from one 5-billionth of a meter to one 20-billionth of a meter in size. Crystals this small could be packed on to a polycarbonate disc by the trillions, which would result in discs with a storage capacity up to 1,000 times greater than a Blu-ray disc!
Take a second and let that sink in. A Blu-ray disc with 25 gigabytes of storage can store approximately 2 hours of HD video content. A disc 1,000 times larger than that could store an absolutely mind-boggling amount of information.
Could this discovery be the birth of the ‘super optical disc’ as we know it? Only time will tell of course, but one thing is for certain: optical storage is not the tired old three-trick pony it has been made out to be. After all these years, discs remain on the cutting edge of data storage. Thanks to researchers such as Ohkoshi and his team, we may one day enjoy massive data storage at a very low cost sometime in the near future.