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Researchers Store Optical Data In Five Dimensions 239

Posted by timothy
from the don't-forget-time dept.
Al writes "Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology in Victoria, Australia, have developed an optical material capable of storing information in five dimensions. Using three wavelengths and two polarizations of light, the Australian researchers were able to write six different patterns within the same area. The material is made up of layers of gold nanorods suspended in clear plastic that has been spun flat onto a glass substrate and multiple data patterns can be written and read within the same area in the material without interference. The team achieved a storage density of 1.1 terabytes per cubic centimeter by writing data to stacks of 10 nanorod layers."
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Researchers Store Optical Data In Five Dimensions

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  • And.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:52PM (#28031087) Journal

    ... if you add a sixth dimension (time), you can store a near-infinite amount of information!

    Retrieval is a bitch though.

    • Re:And.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Burning1 (204959) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:34PM (#28031765) Homepage

      My 6th dimensional storage device is /dev/null in order to retrieve the data, all you have to do is go back to the exact moment in time that it was written.

    • by plover (150551) *
      So if there are 1,000,000,000 nanorods to a rod, and there are 502.92 cm to a rod, there must be 1,988,387 nanorods in a cm. But since a nanorod is only a unit of length and doesn't give a width or depth, we can't really figure out how many nanorods to the cubic cm.
  • by ionix5891 (1228718) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:53PM (#28031103)

    x,y,z,strange and charmed?

    • If you had some way to store data in particle spin, I could easily see 6 dimensions.
      x,y,z position, plus x,y,z spin.

      Interesting stuff....

      • If you had some way to store data in particle spin, I could easily see 6 dimensions.
        x,y,z position, plus x,y,z spin.

        Interesting stuff....

        You should let a physicist know you discovered 3 new dimensions. I think they'd want to know about that.

        • Re:5 dimensions? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:21PM (#28031569)

          Most physicists should be perfectly comfortable applying the term "dimensions" to cases other than spatial dimensions.

          Once you're used to infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces, media articles that mention "five-dimensional storage" are only infinitesimally interesting by comparison.

          • by sdpuppy (898535)
            Whooooosh!!!

            But you're absolutely correct - physicists (as well as other enlightened and intelligent people) refer to parameters as dimensions.

            You need them so that you don't overlap with yourself and become a Bose.

            Thumbs up & high five (one for each dimension).

            High six if you have an extra finger.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              You killed my father! Prepare to die.

          • Re:5 dimensions? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by khellendros1984 (792761) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:45PM (#28031907) Journal
            A classic example given in programming is a 6 dimensional array.
            1. Building
            2. Floor
            3. Wing
            4. Room
            5. Shelf
            6. Book
            I guess I've been accustomed to thinking about larger dimension numbers than 3 or 4 for a long time.
            • Re:5 dimensions? (Score:5, Informative)

              by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:58PM (#28032113)

              Your example is easy to relate to, but there's a problem people should be aware of. While you can refer to the book's location using a 6-dimensional quantity, you *could* do it in 3, by giving its position in space. In a "real" n-dimensional system, you cannot reduce the system to less than n dimensions.

              A good, but less-accessible example, is the state of an object in classical mechanics. The position of an object is 3-dimensional. The state, however, is 6-dimensional: your position (3D) and momentum (3D).

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                is the state of an object in classical mechanics. The position of an object is 3-dimensional. The state, however, is 6-dimensional: your position (3D) and momentum (3D).

                You left our its orientation (3D) and it's angular monmentum (3D) (assuming non-point objects). Hence 12-D at least.

            • Heh. I remember working on a bioinformatics problem for a friend of mine that dealt with no less than 9 dimensions. I parsed the data and dumped it into an array that was 9 arrays deep...I'd never done more than 3 dimensions before, and I wasn't even sure it would work. Everyone I showed it to (cs and physics guys) thought it was complete bullshit, but it made the math so hilariously easy...I'm one of those geometry people, so it made sense in my weird brain to apply linear algebra to it.

              Crazy shit. I had s

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Yokaze (70883)

            Is that so? Isn't that slightly sloppy, from a physicists point of view?
            Rotation and spin are another degree of freedom (and, IRC, has been refered to as such by my physics lecturers), but physically not another dimension.

            Mathematically, a Hilbert-space state vector is infinite-dimensional. But physically, it is just a function describing the state of the system in a three dimensional space over time.

            My problem with using such an expression in a PopSci article is, that it is sensationalism. It relies on the

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by x2A (858210)

              "Rotation and spin are another degree of freedom (and, IRC, has been refered to as such by my physics lecturers), but physically not another dimension"

              Well they kind of are, in that they can't be collapsed into a smaller number of dimensions. If you take rotation of an object, what that refers to in the lower dimensions is the different in momentum of one side of the object to the other. If you do not include that information, to be able describe the object to the same degree of detail, you'd have to includ

      • Re:5 dimensions? (Score:4, Informative)

        by x2A (858210) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:17PM (#28033151)

        Ya know, reading the actual article (yes, I know) it actually looks like it is 6 dimensions not 5 anyway... as it's 3 wavelengths x 2 polorizations, not 3 wavelengths + 2 polorizations... ie, each colour is used twice, creating 6 virtual colours, ie, 6 dimensions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      More likely x, y, z, ana/kata, and Chuck Norris
  • by Carbon016 (1129067) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:55PM (#28031121)

    ..that my toaster is four dimensional because I can describe it as "silver".

    This is cool enough as it is, I don't understand why the technobabble was added: polarization and color information layers may be novel attributes of a disc but there's no real reason to describe them as "5-dimensional" other than to sound physics-y.

    • by xaxa (988988)

      I don't understand why the technobabble was added

      To make people read the story, i.e. to sell newspapers (or ad views).

    • Ever used multi-dimensional arrays? I'm pretty sure they're called that because geeks want people to think that they are masters of the universe...
    • by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:04PM (#28031323)

      To be blunt, your toaster is very much four dimensional if you care about its color.

      In ML we talk about feature spaces having hundreds of dimensions and are just being accurate. The things you care about are the dimensions. Want Euclidean dimension in space? There are three dimensions. Dimensionality of spin? One for each of the quantities.

      If we want to sound smart, we explain the theory behind SVMs and how it's in an infinite dimensional space:-)

      • His toaster is in fact really four-dimensional. Even in the "usual" sense. It has 3 dimensions of space, and exists for a certain range in the dimension of time.

        • by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:10PM (#28033097)

          What about color? What about weight? What about temperature? What about how much Barack Obama likes it on a scale of 1-10 assuming that's defined? All of these are valid features to include in your consideration. Perhaps you only care about two of the spacial dimensions, and it's two-dimensional.

          Time is not automatically a 4th dimension. I really wish that myth would disappear. It's a convenience for visualizing some forms of 4D things (eg, imagining a hypercube as a normal cube that is gradually changing size) but you can visualize it other ways as well. I prefer to think of a hypercube as a cube plus its color.

          Of course, these researchers are totally exploiting that consideration in the population to get fudning. Kind of like how you always add "with implications to homeland security" to the end of proposals, or "the Reds might already have one" in the good old days.

        • by x2A (858210)

          "It has 3 dimensions of space"

          Even that's not really true. It has three dimensions of space occupied (size), it also has three dimensions of space where it's positioned... so, size and position in a 3 dimensional space requires 6 dimensions. I dunno what you'd use your "fourth dimension" for... it's age perhaps (if we assume it exists now)? If we don't assume it exists now, then you'd need two time dimensions to describe it, one for when it was created and one for when it was destroyed. Of course, four dime

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      What's equally odd is that to the layperson I'm sure 'data encoding using differing polarisations and wavelengths of light' means about as much as 'data encoding in five dimensions'. I guess they decided the latter sounds better.

      • In case the laylifeform* is a retard, then yes. Come on. It was a tech site. We are a tech site. And even if not: Wikipedia is just a bookmark away.
        Or don't you learn polarization and wavelengths in early high school (or high school equivalent)?

        * Making everything end in "-person" is just p.c. personism. :P

        • by MoonBuggy (611105)

          Maybe I underestimate people, but I rarely go wrong by assuming low scientific literacy in the general population. Admittedly I didn't RTFA, I just assumed it was the BBC one I'd read earlier in the day, so I was thinking it was aimed at a general audience.

          I will, of course, also ensure that I use the -lifeform suffix in future to ensure I don't cause any offence to non-person citizens :)

    • by Twinbee (767046)

      If 5 dimensions is only 5 times as much data stored as usual, then you're right, the term 'attribute' would be more useful.

      However, if each dimension compounds upon each other, then it's certainly worth using.

      For example, a 5D array of say... 10 bits each (10*10*10*10) for what would usually be only 10 bits for the equivalent 1D would be phenomenal.

    • Can you store a red toaster in the same location as your silver toaster, just because it has a different color?

    • by tenco (773732)
      3 spacial orientations times 2 wavelengths should be 6 dimensions in k-space. With 2 polarizations you should get two 6 dimensional k-spaces. But that's still no explanation why they say it's 5 dimensional.
      • by tenco (773732)
        Silly me. Maybe I should have read at least TFP. Well, it's getting late and I'm sleepy. This should have been: 3 wavelengths and 2 polarizations so they have two 3 dimensional k-spaces. Which would still be 6 dimensions and not 5. Yawn.
  • by rsborg (111459) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:55PM (#28031127) Homepage
    ... and puts me in another dimension?

    Goldschläger! [wikipedia.org]

  • Yawn. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scubamage (727538) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:56PM (#28031145)
    Sweet, more vaporware that will never hit shelves for less than $20,000 a disk, if it ever makes it out at all (possibly a hyperbole). Just like holographic storage. While the idea is fascinating that it can store in x,y,z, polarization, and wavelength, I wonder if this will ever lead to anything practical besides a geekgasm at the idea of a 1cm^2 TB thumbdrive.
    • Re:Yawn. (Score:4, Funny)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:13PM (#28031457) Journal

      I wonder if this will ever lead to anything practical besides a geekgasm at the idea of a 1cm^2 TB thumbdrive.

      FWIW, I would definitely have a geekgasm at a 1 cm^2 TB thumbdrive.

      Think about, that's infinite storage in a 1 cm^3 bay of thumbdrives.

      Finally, a hand-held (well, desktop when you consider usage) storage device able to store all the porn ever created in the past OR future.

      • by scubamage (727538)
        Ack, nice catch on my exponential folly :)
        • FWIW, the third dimension is generally meaningless when referring to thumb drive size... only the biggest two dimensions really affect our usage. If I hadn't made the same error a couple weeks ago, I wouldn't have noticed it myself :)
  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:57PM (#28031175)

    ...can it be the Age of Aquarius?

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:58PM (#28031189) Homepage
    What they mean is that they can store six different things in the same place.

    That's not the same as having six dimensions.

    • Look, my comment has 5 dimensions. Wait a moment... "words"

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      It's not actually misuse of the word "dimension". You're just used to thinking only of spatial dimensions, and other restricted senses of the term.

    • by canajin56 (660655) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:28PM (#28031681)
      Nope, they mean exactly what they said. They mean the dimension of the vector space, not the physical dimensions of the material. To identify a bit being stored, you REQUIRE 5 coordinates: X,Y,Z,wavelength,polarity. So, the vector space had D=5.
    • by dbIII (701233)
      It's a proper use of dimension in terms of it being a way to describe something. Trek has just rotted everyone's brains with this just as with plasma etc.
  • by gizmo2199 (458329) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @04:59PM (#28031225) Homepage

    Yeah! take that Sony. They not only have blue ray, they have blue, yellow and green ray.

    It's a color laser light-show smackdown!.

    Boo-Yeah!!!

    • by x2A (858210)

      Which is why Sony refer to it as the sting ray... ouch.

      (which I guess would eventually make the blue ray an ex ray?)

  • The team achieved a storage density of 1.1 terabytes per cubic centimeter

    I used to read about stuff just like this in Scientific American in ..... 1993.

    So where are the products? That's what I want to know. Not bashing on the researchers here, but I will be I 70 before I here there is an actual product I can buy?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You may be mistaken. In 1993 you were probably reading about the amazing gnarly research of storing 700 mb on CD media (what? more than 650!) or the amazing hard drive like 100 mb zip drive! (ooooooh, that is like the SAME size as my hard drive, but it's PORTABLE!) I jest of course. I DO however remember reading about blue ray tech around 1996 though. There have been a LOT of developments like this, but the number one determining factor IMHO has been MARKETING, followed by consumer price.
    • 1993 would've been, what, 500MB 3.5" hard disks? So, 21.74MB per in^3 (1.33MB per cc). 16 years later, we have 16GB of storage in a USB key like this [thinkgeek.com], in 0.081 in^3, for a density of 202,271 MB per in^3 (12,343MB/cc). This new method is about 94 times denser than current flash technology. In 16 years of time, we've had a density improvement around 10000x. You do the math (since I feel like I've done enough for the moment)
  • . . . you might hit Buckaroo Banzai on the road.

  • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:06PM (#28031363) Journal

    is engineering a read/write head which is bent at 90 degrees to reality in two distinct and orthogonal directions.

    The downside is that a head crash would threaten the integrity of the space-time continuum worse than a Large Hadron Collider mishap and two Star Trek: Voyager episodes all occurring at the same time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      Christ. I mean, having to sit through one episode of ST:V makes me want to destroy the space time continuum. (Yatta!)

  • Uh, no... (Score:3, Funny)

    by creimer (824291) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:08PM (#28031391) Homepage
    I have a hard enough time keeping track of my data to have it go time traveling and wandering around the universe like an old TARDIS [wikipedia.org].
  • by rootrot (103518) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @05:09PM (#28031403)

    1.1TB thanks to optical storage in 5 dimensions...3 more and we'll be driving cars through mountains. I can't wait. I just hope the researchers behind this work realize that no mater where they go, there they are.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cashman73 (855518)
      Thanks to this invention, geeks of the future will need a flux capacitor just to view their porn collections! Suddenly, Doc Brown's odd pronunciation of, "1.1 Gigawatts", makes a lot more sense!
  • Dr. Vasili Orlov: What was that all about?
    Chandra: I've erased all of HAL's memory from the moment the trouble started.
    Dr. Vasili Orlov: The 9000 series uses holographic memory so chronological erasures would not work.
    Chandra: I made a tapeworm.
    Walter Curnow: You made a what?
    Chandra: It's a program that's fed into a system that will hunt down and destroy any desired memories.
  • by Misch (158807)

    Crap. Just when I get used to having to work an extra fourth dimensional shift [theonion.com], now I have to pick up work on a 5th dimension?

    When will I sleep?

    • by x2A (858210)

      "When will I sleep?"

      By doing things in different places at the same time, rather than different times in the same place - you are asleep already, a few inches to your left.

  • TA talks about disks etc. Solid state is the future, if I am not mistaken. We can have any number of flash memory "layers" even now... capacity is no longer the most important factor, other parameters like "write speeds" are.

    This should have been tagged "vapor ware". What about the materials involved (gold) ? Re-write ability ? Speed of write ? Speed of reads ? Possible seek times ? How well manufacturing of this scales ? etc.
    • by x2A (858210)

      I disagree with your questions (heh) - this isn't a single solution, this is multiple technologies providing multiple solutions. In this instance, they're working together, but they don't have to be. Only by knowing as many different solutions as possible can we be more certain to be picking the best ones.

      "Solid state is the future, if I am not mistaken"

      You may be mistaken... partially... probably. As a replacement for spinning random access media, perhaps, but what about mass distribution where re-writeabi

  • Wavelength is definitely a full dimension, as it would be possible to read data at a near infinite number of specific wavelengths. Reading should be easy because you can just pass the light through a prism and check a specific angle of refraction to find the wavelength you need. Writing would be trickier, but it's an engineering problem that can be improved upon over time.

    I'm not sure if I'd call polarization a dimension because there are only two angles you can work with, the angle you start with and the a

    • I'm not sure if I'd call polarization a dimension because there are only two angles you can work with, the angle you start with and the angle perpendicular to it. If you try to use a third angle, data from other two will mix with what you're trying to read. So I would say polarization adds another bit (allowing you to store twice as much), but not another full dimension (potentially allowing you to store orders of magnitude more).

      But it's completely independent of the other dimensions, so it probably counts. Maybe this is the same sort of thing as the string theory people mean when they talk about extra "rolled up" dimensions, or how the surface of a sheet of paper and the surface of a paper towel tube are both two dimensional even though there are a lot less discrete positions going around the circumference of the tube?

      • by Omestes (471991)

        Maybe this is the same sort of thing as the string theory people mean when they talk about extra "rolled up" dimensions, or how the surface of a sheet of paper and the surface of a paper towel tube are both two dimensional even though there are a lot less discrete positions going around the circumference of the tube?

        I doubt it, the string theorists are talking about SPATIAL dimensions, while this is talking of axis of data stored (the terms fail me, someone earlier had them correct, but my brain failed). I

    • by x2A (858210)

      "as it would be possible to read data at a near infinite number of specific wavelengths"

      A high number perhaps, but light frequency does appear to be quantized, that being the case it's definitely a finite set.

      The article that appeared recently about the ultra high speed camera, which works with a single wide spectrum pulse, split through space by prism to interact with the object, with the reflections being recombined to a single point, but seperated through time and read by a single photo diode (or whateve

  • Why are the centimeters cubic if there are 5 dimensions? Wouldn't it be quintic centimeters or something?
  • If words meant things, we wouldn't have this argument twice a week. Unfortunately, it's an unenforceable suggestion - people use words as they please.

    I prefer to think of this as storing something in three geometric dimensions and two buzzword/marketing dimensions.

    As to the time-as-a-dimension thing, was there ever anything so completely wrong? Do things change over time in the second or fourth geometric dimensions? Whoops.

    I have to learn to admit to myself that the dimension discussion, like the "what's a

  • by m.dillon (147925) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:18PM (#28034955) Homepage

    Wavelength doesn't really count as a dimension for stroage, nor can one store an infinite amount of information by using an infinite number of frequencies. However, polarization could be considered a dimension for the purposes of storage.

    The problem with anything in the frequency domain is that you cannot encode a single frequency without creating a spread which crosses multiple frequencies. This limits how short a pulse one can encode at the desired frequency and how closely one can pack discrete frequencies together to encode different data. Coupled with the noise floor the combination limits the amount of data which can be stored in the frequency domain.

    for example, if you were to look at the fourier transform of a sine wave you would see a single frequency. However, if you were to look at the fourier transform of the sine wave and INCLUDE the lack of a sine wave before and after the sine wave pulse being encoded, you would see a log of bleedover into other frequencies due to the ramp-up and ramp-down times. Any change, such as going from flatline to a sine-wave, will create a lot of harmonics. Harmonics can be reduced (but not eliminated) by using an envelope to ramp-up or ramp-down the operation, but an envelope of course requires the pulse duration to be longer. So the amount of data which can be stored is limited no matter what you do.

    It works a bit differently when one is working in a quantum mechanical domain... in that case it is possible to store discrete information at discrete frequencies, but you only have particular frequencies to work with, typically related to the energy level of the electrons being knocked around.

    -Matt

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