Stone tablets, cave drawings, and ancient scrolls are all we have left of many of the civilizations that came before us.
Through these rudimentary mediums, our ancestors are able to speak directly to us–sharing their knowledge, their values, and details about their everyday lives. But not all tablets, pictographs, and scrolls survived. And each one that has been lost equates to information that we will never know.
So how can we preserve our knowledge for those that come after us? Many of us erroneously entrust our histories to our computer storage devices, oblivious to the fact that magnetic hard discs can only retain data for about a decade. But what other options do we have? The art of chiseling stone has largely been lost and caves are few and far between.
Thanks to Jeroen de Vries and his colleagues at the Netherlands’ University of Twente, the intellectual property of this century can be preserved for civilizations to come.
Traditionally, science has focused on making data storage devices smaller in size, while simultaneously increasing their storage capacity. The goal of de Vries’ team, however, was to create a disc that would retain information for a million years. And they succeeded.
This wafer-like storage device consists of tungsten that is coated with a protective layer of silicon nitride. Tungsten was selected due to its ability to withstand high temperatures before melting and its low thermal expansion coefficient. Silicon nitride is resistant to breaks and cracks, it is transparent to light, and able to tolerate extreme heat without expanding.
Enter the QR Code. Etched on the tungsten, you will find a large QR Code and within each pixel of that large code, you will then see smaller QR Codes that contain other information. Information can be read via an electron microscope. According to de Vries, “In principle, we can store everything on the disc that we believe is worthwhile saving: for example, a digital image of the Mona Lisa.”
How do they know that his device will hold its data for a million years? They conducted testing based on the Arrhenius Model–heating it in an oven for one hour at a temperature of 473 Kelvin.
What does this mean for the future?
Ideally, storage devices like this one will be placed in stable environments for their protection. If for any reason, our civilization comes to a screeching halt, future peoples–or otherworldly beings–will benefit from our knowledge and preserve our history.
This discovery–and all of the chatter about the short lifespan of current storage devices–may lead to consumer demand for products with greater storage retention. This would cause a shift away from the current “more storage space in less physical space” focus.
It may also spark a debate about what information is deemed worthy of passing on to future civilizations and who will decide this. Should we give preference to technology, medicine, morality, the arts, or something else entirely?
Without a doubt, de Vries and his team have changed the way we will store data for generations–and perhaps civilizations–to come. Hopefully, one of those QR Codes will transmit the recipe for the disc, itself.
What impact do you think this million-year disc will have on the future?
Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer and avid blogger who loves writing content for MediaShower.com. Researching this article has motivated her to sprint to Walmart to develop all of her treasured photos. Traditional storage devices cannot be trusted, after all.
Image courtesy of photos.com.