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Microsoft Uses Laser to Store ‘Superman’ on Quartz Glass

December 19, 2019

The materials we work with last for a really, really long time. Sapphire, hard ceramics, glass

So it’s no surprise that scientists are finding ways to use them to store information that could be vital to future generations, from our scientific discoveries to our civilization’s most celebrated works of art. And the entire 1978 film “Superman.”

That’s right. Microsoft’s Project Silica has succeeded in a years long effort to prove that data could be stored in glass using a combination of laser optics and artificial intelligence. 

The piece of glass is 7.5 centimeters long and 2 millimeters thick, about the size of a coaster. It will last for hundreds of years, and it can be “baked, microwaved, scoured, doused in water, demagnetized, and subject to other environmental threats” without suffering damage to its cinematic cargo.

The ultimate goal is to create a scalable solution to physically store information for long periods at a lower cost. Reels and microchips are fragile; quartz glass is relatively strong.

So how does it work?

High-powered lasers make extremely small three-dimensional carvings into the surface of the glass. Light is projected through the glass, and a machine-learning algorithm “reads” the patterns that are created by the light. 

The laser used to create the carvings is a femtosecond laser, the same used in LASIK eye surgery thanks to its exceedingly short pulses that allow a high level of detail and precision.

 

 

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