Science says nanoparticles of gold may be the answer to storing data for hundreds of years

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  • The next-gen Optical Disk made with gold particles could be the answer to the world’s data storage problem.
  • These could disks would have a 10TB capacity and a six-century lifespan.
  • Scientists from Australian and China says this technique is suitable for mass production of optical disks.

Researchers from Australia and China used gold nanoparticles to create a new type of high-capacity optical storage disk which can hold data securely for more than 600 years.

The technology promises a better solution to the global data storage problem where the explosion of big data and cloud storage has led to power-hungry data centres.

These centres, currently consuming about 3% of the world’s electricity supply, rely on hard disk drives with limited capacity, up to 2TB per disk, and lifespans of only two years.

Now scientists from Melbourne’s RMIT University and Wuhan Institute of Technology in China have used gold nanomaterials to demonstrate a next-generation optical disk with up to 10TB capacity and a six-century lifespan.

The scientist explain in this video clip:

“All the data we’re generating in the Big Data era — over 2.5 quintillion bytes a day — has to be stored somewhere, but our current storage technologies were developed in different times,” says Lead investigator, RMIT University’s Distinguished Professor Min Gu.

“While optical technology can expand capacity, the most advanced optical disks developed so far have only 50-year lifespans.

“Our technique can create an optical disk with the largest capacity of any optical technology developed to date and our tests have shown it will last over half a millennium.

“While there is further work needed to optimise the technology — and we’re keen to partner with industrial collaborators to drive the research forward — we know this technique is suitable for mass production of optical disks so the potential is staggering.”

The novel technique behind the technology, developed over five years, combines gold nanomaterials with a hybrid glass material that has outstanding mechanical strength.

The research progresses earlier work by Gu and his team which smashed through the optical limit of blu-ray and enabled data to be stored across the full spectrum of visible light rays.

Glass can last up to 1000 years but has limited storage capacity because of its inflexibility.

The team combined glass with an organic material, halving its lifespan but radically increasing capacity.

Gold nanorods were then incorporated into a hybrid glass composite.
The gold nanoparticles allow information to be recorded in five dimensions — the three dimensions in space plus colour and polarisation.


The world is shifting from Big Data towards Long Data, which enables insights through the mining of massive datasets.

Dr Qiming Zhang, Senior Research Fellow from RMIT’s School of Science, says the technology could expand horizons for research.

“Long Data offers an unprecedented opportunity for new discoveries in almost every field — from astrophysics to biology, social science to business — but we can’t unlock that potential without addressing the storage challenge,” Zhang says.

“For example, to study the mutation of just one human family tree, 8 terabytes of data is required to analyse the genomes across 10 generations. In astronomy, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope produces 576 petabytes of raw data per hour.

“Meanwhile the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to ‘map’ the human brain is handling data measured in yottabytes, or one trillion terabytes.

“These enormous amounts of data have to last over generations to be meaningful. Developing storage devices with both high capacity and long lifespan is essential, so we can realise the impact that research using Long Data can make in the world.”

The research was led by Gu and Zhang at RMIT’s Laboratory of Artificial-Intelligence Nanophotonics and the RMIT node of Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), along with collaborators from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Wuhan University of Technology and the Faculty of Engineering, Monash University.

The paper, High-capacity optical long data memory based on enhanced Young’s modulus in nanoplasmonic hybrid glass composites, is published in in the journal Nature Communications.