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Data Storage Media Technology

Nanotech Memory Could Hold Data For 1 Billion Years 239

Hugh Pickens writes "Digital storage devices have become ubiquitous in our lives but the move to digital storage has raised concerns about the lifetime of the storage media. Now Alex Zettl and his group at the University of California, Berkeley report that they have developed an experimental memory device consisting of a crystalline iron nanoparticle enclosed in a multiwalled carbon nanotube that could have a storage capacity as high as 1 terabyte per square inch and temperature-stability in excess of one billion years. The nanoparticle can be moved through the nanotube by applying a low voltage, writing the device to a binary state represented by the position of the nanoparticle. The state of the device can then be subsequently read by a simple resistance measurement while reversing the nanoparticle's motion allows a memory 'bit' to be rewritten. This creates a programmable memory system that, like a silicon chip, can record digital information and play it back using conventional computer hardware storing data at a high density with a very long lifetime. Details of the process are available at the American Chemical Society for $30."
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Nanotech Memory Could Hold Data For 1 Billion Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:21AM (#28094763)

    If you don't misplace it..

  • A billion years? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrumblyStuff (870046) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:22AM (#28094779)

    That's great. Will the readers and systems able to display such information be around for even a hundred? Will they even accept the same power?

    • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:59AM (#28095285) Homepage
      See, this is not a problem. Unless society is cast back into darkness by some nuclear war, the future human/creature will easily understand how to power up and interface to this device. Either by locating historical documentation, or reverse engineering, which would be trivial for our future superhumans/robots.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by DinDaddy (1168147)

        You could store instructions for accessing the data right in the device! Then you'd be sure there's a durable copy available.

      • Even if society IS cast back into darkness, they'll still figure it out. After all, we saw in "Battlefield Earth" that men that had reverted back to a primitive state could *easily* be taught to skillfully fly aircraft, so how hard could this be?
    • Can. Meet Will Be. And this is her sister Should Be.

      Oldest stone tools [archaeology.org] are millions of years old.
      Can we still use them for hunting or whatever? Sure.
      Should we still use them? Depends on the situation.
      Would we still use them? Highly unlikely if there is anything a bit more modern at hand. Like a stick.

      In another 50-100 years we ourselves may not be able to read those audio messages we sent out to space on those golden records. [wikipedia.org]
      Whose recording may outlive most of today's CDs and DVDs. Should we still be using

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by eam (192101)

        > In another 50-100 years we ourselves may not be able to read
        > those audio messages we sent out to space on those golden records.

        Why not? You should be able to play them back with any sharp metal wire poked through a sheet of paper or plastic. Put the disk on a turntable, poke a wire through a thin piece of plastic or paper, lay the point of the wire in the groove while holding the sheet. When you turn the disk, the needle will vibrate the sheet and you'll hear the sounds.

        Of course, you'll probabl

        • May... Meet Will. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by denzacar (181829)

          Sure, you could play it like that. But will you be able to match the right speed? How about the sound volume? And like you said - scratching problem.

          We MAY not be able to read those messages.
          Most people WILL not be able to read them pretty soon due to obscurity.
          As you've implied - many kids today don't know they can play a record without electricity.

          Heck, a dedicated tinkerer could relatively easily make a magnetic tape player from scratch.
          Not so likely with CDs. Nearly impossible with DVDs.

          The point of the

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by icebike (68054)

            We MAY not be able to read those messages.
            Most people WILL not be able to read them pretty soon due to obscurity.

            Obscurity is not a problem for any sufficiently advanced civilization.

            Its not like the records on Voyager were meant for your teen-ager to play on your old dusted off turntable from the attic.

            The point made by the GP is that it is easily readable by any society likely to recover Voyager (unless it crash lands on Planet of the Apes).

            Yes, they might initially mistake it for a Religious symbol, or random etching by a long gone microbe, or dismiss it all together because its JUST a physical object and the physi

        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:00PM (#28097127) Journal
          A little while ago there was an article on Slashdot by someone who wrote some software that played LPs using a flatbed scanner. The resolution on a cheap consumer-grade scanner is high enough that the sound is recognisable. You wouldn't want to use it for music, but to get a rough idea it's fine, and this is using hardware that a lot of people have sitting around at home. Specialist firms will use a laser to read the disks and will copy them for you - for a much larger fee.
    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      If something lasts that long, and can hold that much stuff, there will always be a reader available (unless we return to the dark ages, that is.

      It should be sufficiently evident by now that data is much more expensive than the method used to read that data. If you build it (high capacity durable memory), they (access hardware developers) will come.

      Anyway, if the stored data has no value who cares whether or not a reader is available?

    • That's easy, you just have to include instructions on exactly what voltage/amp electricity you'll need to run it, and a clear description of the encoding format. Of course, you'll have to make sure this information is recorded for a billion years as well... so just record it with this nanotech memory! It's a perfectly reasonable and not-at-all-completely-retarded solution!

  • Main problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by synthparadox (770735) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:25AM (#28094805) Homepage

    The main problem isn't the length of time that data can be stored. Hard drives and tape drives still carry data from the 1970s, but no one can use them. Why? Because of format changes. We recently transitioned to Blu-Ray, and there are countless codecs for video at this point in time. I don't think the problem is with the length of time for storage, as useful as that is, but rather with the format in which we store them.

    An excellent anecdote was mentioned on slashdot recently: http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/04/13/005224 [slashdot.org]

    • by fataugie (89032)

      That's why we should store info on something more permanent.....like CASSETTE TAPES.

      Wait....oh never mind.

    • Re:Main problem (Score:5, Interesting)

      by techiemikey (1126169) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:34AM (#28094915)
      Length of time is a relevant restriction. While information can be lost due to becoming obsolete, corruption over time occurs. CD's and DVD's are sometimes very fickle on how long they last, and many people are using them for backups. I believe that is the main concern, thus leading to this new technology.
    • Re:Main problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:42AM (#28095043)

      Hard drives and tape drives still carry data from the 1970s

      Interesting side note to this. My sister's computer recently wouldn't work. She brought it to a computer tech to be fixed. (I wouldn't fix it for two big reasons. 1) They live too far away and 2) I've fixed it in the past only to have them disable the protections I put in place - firewall, antivirus, etc - because they were "too annoying.") As my sister was telling me of what the tech said he needed to do, I stopped her on one important point. He was insisting on replacing the hard drive because "they only work for 3-5 years so this one's likely to die any day now." I told her that I had hard drives work for 8 or more years and there's no reason (short of abuse) why a hard drive shouldn't last over a decade. Whether the drive's space limits will make it useful past 10 years is another question entirely, but it should still be usable. I advised her that the tech was just trying to sell her stuff that she didn't need. Of course, during my next phone call to her, I won't be surprised to hear how she replaced the hard drive because it was 5 years old and going to die soon.

      • Re:Main problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @10:01AM (#28095331) Journal

        Unsolicited advice: If you aren't going to do the work, don't second guess the tech doing the work. Likely you are right. However, say something does go wrong with the drive... now you are the one who takes the blame. Best to go "uh huh... yea... sounds good" and leave it like that.

      • Re:Main problem (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Swizec (978239) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @10:15AM (#28095523) Homepage
        A few years ago I had four hard drives fail within two weeks of each other resulting in near complete data loss. Luckily I went and bought a big HDD right after the first died so I saved something like 30% of the data because I had somewhere to put it ... but anyway

        The thing is, those drives were never abused, never hurt in any way, they just simply died because they were about 5 years old. Clicking noises. Crashy computer. Bad sectors. Death.

        What I'm trying to say is that yes, storage itself should work almost indefinitely on a hard drive, but if wear&tear occurs on the bearings or the arm the drive WILL kill itself and most commercial hard drives simply aren't made to last more than about five years of regular use.
        • Re:Main problem (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.man@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @10:56AM (#28096195)

          A few years ago I had four hard drives fail within two weeks of each other resulting in near complete data loss. Luckily I went and bought a big HDD right after the first died so I saved something like 30% of the data because I had somewhere to put it ... but anyway The thing is, those drives were never abused, never hurt in any way, they just simply died because they were about 5 years old. Clicking noises. Crashy computer. Bad sectors. Death.

          That, to me, sounds like they were killed by an environmental factor, just not one you were aware of. It could be anything, but I'll name a few: Humidity, excessive vibration, excessive read/write cycling, excessive power up/down of motor, poor power supply, excessive heat, static electricity, or a physical abuse by somebody else. Assuming these were your only 4 drives (based on your claim of 'near complete data loss'), it's highly unlikely that all 4 drives would die at the same time due to regular wear-and-tear.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Lord Bitman (95493)

        Ten years ago, hard drives could last ten years, easily. (I've got plenty of drives from the late 90s that still work fine)
        As of five years ago, hard drives can't reliably last five years. (I have one working five-year old drive)
        As of two years ago, hard drives are not reliable for more than six months. (I've replaced enough now to know: Yeah, it 'could' last five years, but it's statistically unlikely)

        • by Kz (4332)

          interesting... but six months is too short. even now, most 'supposed to be serious' HDDs are available with at least 1 year warranty.

          a few years ago that was usually 3 years, with 5 years available. going to 1 year is obviously a bad sign about quality and resiliency; but still more than 6 months!

        • Where are you buying your hard drives? Granted, we buy business class at our company, but of thirty we have purchased over the last two years, one has had a couple bad sectors, certainly no failures.

      • Well honestly, I'd say that both you and your sister are just a little bit off-point. It's not at all uncommon for hard drives to die within a span of 5 years. The problem is that it's not at all predictable when your particular hard drive will die. If you have thousands of hard drives, you might be able to calculate the failure rate that you're experiencing, but any given hard drive might last for a year or for a decade.

        But because of the unpredictability, you generally don't replace hard drives on a r

        • Or use ZFS and just keep adding new drives to the storage pool and throwing away the dead ones...
      • by DomNF15 (1529309)
        I had a pair of Maxtor HDDs running in a raid 1 config for just over 3 years before 1 of them failed. The warranty period of the drives: 3 years. The machine was powered on 24x7x365 and typically used for streaming mp3s or as a remote desktop for around 8 hrs/day, the rest of the time it was probably close to idle. My point is that your experience of having 1 HDD last 8 years is no more of a valid indicator of average life than my singular case. If my machine was powered off for a few days a week, the d
    • I think you'll find that if you had the ancient systems required to read them, knew the formats involved, etc, 40-year-old tapes are still going to be tough to read from. The fast pace of "progress" making things obsolete before they even wear out, only serves to hide the fact that old things /do/ wear out, even if old things wear out more slowly than new things.

  • Sure it can (Score:5, Funny)

    by fataugie (89032) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:26AM (#28094819) Homepage

    Wow, what a claim. And by the time someone figures out it's bullshit, the guy who made it will be dust long ago.


  • by Rosyna (80334) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:30AM (#28094855) Homepage

    The problem with CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, tapes, and so on is that they have extremely short lifetimes (6 to 3 years for most optical media, 10-20 years for most magnetic media).

    This is a solution that would finally allow our civilization's information to last beyond the apocalypse occurring in 2012.

    Or think think how long Atlantis was lost to intelligent life...

    • by fataugie (89032) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:39AM (#28094991) Homepage

      The problem with CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, tapes, and so on is that they have extremely short lifetimes (6 to 3 years for most optical media, 10-20 years for most magnetic media).

      I call Horseshit.
      Yes, some of them die early, but I have CD's from 10 years ago that are fine. I took a stroll down memory lane this weekend and looked at some old CD's I had, so i have direct experience as of yesterday. Some commercial CD's of games (Critical Path circa 1994..wow, what a stinker) I just looked at yesterday are fine. Kirk's Comm disk from 1994....no problem at all.
      I also have casette tapes from the 70's and 80's that are fine.
      VHS videos from the early 80's, disk drives from early 90's....and with a few exceptions, most are totally servicable.

      I would say that most will live longer than your claims, yet maybe 10% to 20% will not, instea

      • by beelsebob (529313) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:54AM (#28095213)

        Yes, some of them die early, but I have CD's from 10 years ago that are fine
        Maybe, but that's not what's important is it... What matters is if you record something, after how long are you guaranteed to still be able to read the data. With CD-rs I'd put that as low as 1 and a half years.

        Notably, you also seem to confuse CDs and CD-rs, the dies used in CD-rs go south far far faster than the data layers used on comercial CDs.

        Finally, your cassette tapes from the 70s may be "fine" in terms of listening to them, but how many scratches, pops, whirs and whistles have they picked up? If that were digital data, do you honestly think you'd be able to recover it still?

        • by fataugie (89032)

          Actually, I did mix commercial with CD-R's, but I examined both and had very good success. Now, I would not say mission critical, absolutly HAVE to have it when I want to retrieve it data should be only on CD-R's, I will agree with you on that. But that's why I would have multiple copies on a variety of media.

          My proclomation of Horseshit was on the general claim of lifespan.

        • I have CD-Rs from over 10 years ago that still read fine.

          I would say it matters on two things. First the quality of the CD-R. The 5 cent ones may not last as long as the 25 cent ones (price per 100 spindle). Second how you store the CD-R. If you leave the disk loose in a drawer with a bunch of other disks and papers it may not last that long. if you store it in an actual CD case or CD binder it should last longer. Also with storing the CDs. Leaving them in an outside shed is a bad idea. Temperature extremes

      • Sir, your experience and archival methodology is to be commended. Please inform the U.S. Library of Congress as to how you have managed to maintain your library without having failures due to degradation. Our experience, unfortunately, does not match yours.
      • Are you old enough to remember floppy disks? More specifically, the 3 1/2 floppy disks? The ones made early in this formats life were rock solid. You could barely bend them. I even poked a few holes in one (to blame my missing report that I didn't do on the bad floppy disk), and it read EVERYTHING. At the time, a cheap floppy would cost you ~$1. Skip forward a handful of years where AOL floppy disks were coming in the Sunday newspaper... you could practically bend them in half. The "seems" of the disk would
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Learn the difference.

  • Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff (680366) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:32AM (#28094891)
    Ok, while I find the tech cool and this is certainly News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters but, seriously? "Details of the process are available at the American Chemical Society for $30." Seriously? We're just abandoning any pretense that these are news summaries now and just outright turning them into ads for products? We're now outright trying to sell things? Weak. Very weak indeed.
    • Oh, no, these places -help- to spread the word by removing roadblocks to scientific research. /sarcasm

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Seriously? We're just abandoning any pretense that these are news summaries now and just outright turning them into ads for products? We're now outright trying to sell things? Weak. Very weak indeed.

      Yeah and when the summary notes that a NYT link requires registration, they're trying to get you to register at NYT. Or was that warn you? I guess you could view it either way...

      There are two links to free articles with the usual amount of information and details that we get in any tech-related article on Slas

  • by Eddy Luten (1166889) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:34AM (#28094919)
    nobody will give a damn about our data anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fataugie (89032)

      Trust me, if you store your Porn collection, some geek in the future will move heaven and earth to get a peek.

    • Yes they will.

      In a billion years, there will be a galactic war between the Church of the Holy Goatse, and Two Gods one Cup.

    • by houghi (78078)

      RIAA will. That way they can sue your ancestors.

    • by Spatial (1235392)
      Obviously you aren't a historian. They'd give a shit of positively ass-splitting proportions. 'Daily life' data that you and I would regard as useless and boring would be a very useful insight to them.
  • Unfred called it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:41AM (#28095029)

    I knew this had the ring of truth about it

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/13855395/Weaseljumper-Read-Me-First/ [scribd.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:48AM (#28095133)

    "Details of the process are available at the American Chemical Society for $30."

    Does anyone else find the trend of pay-per-view science disturbing?

    All too often, if you search the internet for a topic with ongoing research, you may likely find links to papers with restricted access and not generally accessible.

    Any you should assume that several patents are pending based on this ongoing research, even if the idea is a seemingly obvious application of the research.

    In software, it is worse. Papers are rarely written, as there are rarely any new ideas. Most all software companies reinvent the same wheels, then attempt to patent cosmetic qualities of the wheeels. Then other companies apply effort to avoid use of such cosmetic patents. and create their own similar cosmetic features (and patents).


  • So now the intelligent cockroaches of the far future can read our Twitters[tm]! That's stupendilicious! LOL! BRB! :-)

    Or Slashdot posts! Hey, bugs! How ya doing!

  • So? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:53AM (#28095203) Homepage

    Nanotech - 1 Billion years
    Elephant - Forever

    Technology simply cannot compete with mother nature.

    • by slyn (1111419)

      Now we just need to invent immortal elephants and we've got the universe in our grasp.

      • by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:58AM (#28097099) Journal

        Build nano-elephants.

        That way we will be combining nano-technology and nature and we will have a device that stores data for billion forevers.

      • Nah, just copy your data from one elephant to another. Individual elephants last 50-60 years, so just replicate your data on a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Elephants and add a new one when one of the old ones starts to look a bit old.
  • by Talisman (39902) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @09:59AM (#28095281) Homepage
    "A billion years ought to be enough for anybody." - Me
  • I guess the question is, is the data of today's living really that important? I mean, sure, you might wish you had every bit of minute info from the builders of the pyramids, but, does it really undermine our life to not have it? Indeed, can the imagination and argument required to envision how the past was actually make the past more relevant to us today?

    I almost wonder if, instead of having data that lasts forever, if we should have data that deletes itself when you die.

  • No way should this tech be used by anybody. It will only take a few more decades before the RIAA legally own all data everywhere, then you will be worrying how to keep your data files hidden for millions of years so that they don't sue your ass.

  • Refund? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wildzeke (191754)

    Do I get a refund if the memory fails before a billion years?

    • by denzacar (181829)

      1. Get warranty plan that will pay interest on the value if device fails before the warranty expires
      2. Wait billion years
      3. ???
      4. Profit!

  • Too bad it doesn't exist.

    Also good luck FINDING it after a billion years... "I know it is around here somewhere!"

    In other news, my patented Pixie Dust and Ground Unicorn Horn method for data storage may be retrievable after about 1.5 trillion years.

    Next story please.

  • We live in a universe permeated by cosmic rays of very high energies. The flux is about 0.2 ray per square centimeter per second. Each ray can easily ionize a track a billion atoms long.
      In a billion years that's about 6 x 10^21 bits damaged per square cm. Not exactly legible.

  • Back when music CDs first came out, many made similar claims; would basically last forever, which turned out to not be true, as many early CD adopters found out the hard way by the late 1980s.

    I'd doubt such nanotech memory, especially at the extreme densities mentioned in the article summery, would last (as in being easily readable and having zero uncorrectable errors) even 50 years.

    What about the stability of the substrate / packaging, cosmic rays, etc? Still too many unknowns for any credible longevity cl

  • Could this mean that we should be looking for crystals instead of radiowaves?

    Oh!.. We may even find data from the very beginning of the times! And the message is: "Oooops... Sorry..."

  • Or, it fails after a million years. How would anyone know?

  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @10:40AM (#28095935) Homepage

    I think there is prior art [slashdot.org] on this one:

    I also have invented a process for creating a rock inside of a computer, one that all of the people in the world could artificially engrave in a tombstone-style text whatever they wish. If built, this rock would enable all people on Earth to store one paragraph or more worth of information that would be permanently stored on the computer. The information stored would outlive the person whom engraved the rock because the rock would be of a 0.8 micron process with 500,000 transistors in the space of a 486 Central Processing Unit. A 486 Central Processing Unit actually has over 800,000 transistors. My design would be more reliable than a 486. Some people may think that a 0.8 micron process is too slow - this is incorrect if it is a 1024 bit or higher processor, then it could do more in increased volume than a smaller processor. The processor would last many hundreds of years and this is why the space shuttle uses similar technology - where failure is not an option. The information engraved in the rock which is purple and blue and marble-like and is black in some areas where the operating system blocks out information that a person may chose to remove from the rock. The information people place on the rock is permanent. Data is stored in the style of something similar to a Nintendo video game cartridge which is Read Only Memory (ROM) and will almost certainly last many lifetimes before failure. The rock is rectangular and information within it could be searched through or zoomed in and out of viewing range. The rock would cost based on the price of data storage media. For instance: an 80 GigaByte hard disk can hold 80 billion characters of information - this would give every single person on Earth approximately 13 characters of information on the rock for about $50 worth of failure prone storage like a personal computer hard disk. The design intentions are to make the rock outlast 10's of lifetimes before repair, to be redundant in all ways and last for eternity. The rock is for love letters, poems, eulogies and anything at all. This rock is free and will remain free and will never cost monetary values to use the contents of it or place information on it. Light from the fiber optic inter-connects would be magnified and sent to to solar panels and then that energy would be used to power the system. It would be electrically efficient. This idea was invented by Shampoo.

  • The oldest information-bearing material we know of are fossil stromatolites over three billion years old.

  • It's another one of those crap articles from Physorg. They regularly report some minor advance in chemistry or device physics as a new product available Real Soon Now. Then somebody posts it to Slashdot, whose "editors" post it as news.

    Wikipedia has better editing than this.

  • Some questions arise:

    1) Some data like movies can suffer a certain degree of data loss. But some other data (code, for example) can not. How precise is this new storage technique?

    2) what is the performance? can we use it as main memory? or it is to replace hard disks?

  • I love to use this for a time-capsule, but I'm not sure somebody reading my time-capsule data 1 billion years in the future will understand the phenomenon of "rick-rolling".

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a silly proverb. "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer the truth. -- Alfred North Whitehead