Long Term Digital Storage

Need to store your data for more than 10 years? Right now that means countless backups and transferring data to new locations, as digital storage has, more or less, a one-decade shelf life. Researchers, however, have discovered a solution to the long-term data storage problem, and data hoarders everywhere have rejoiced.

A 10-year shelf life isn’t the only problem plaguing data storage, in actuality. A mechanical failure (like a head crash) can result in the loss of data, and magnetic fields also pose a threat. Several factors have thus led to more research on the right combination of materials for more permanent storage solutions. Will their new storage method retain data for a hundred years? A thousand? Actually, the number is more in the millions.

Due to its exceptional heat resistance, tungsten was the chosen metal for the studies—the biggest threat to all digital technology is heat, after all. Silicon nitride was also used to increase heat resistance and protect against physical damage. Surprisingly enough, scientists believe that not only can the data contained on such digital storage devices outlast the human race itself, but that they could actually still be available and intact for whatever dominant intelligent species comes next on earth. Regardless of how ridiculous that sounds, it’s still an impressive feat of technology.

How does data get stored on tungsten? It’s done with tiny QR codes like the ones you see on those subway and magazine ads—only on a microscopic scale. A test was conducted to determine how long the data could be stored for, with digital storage being exposed to heat for certain lengths of time. The exposure simulated specific time periods: For example, to simulate a million years of storage, the test exposed the data to temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit for a full hour. The study showed that the data survived undamaged enough to still be read.

While the test isn’t foolproof, it does show that data can survive millions of years of normal heat conditions, making daily wear and tear not an issue and keeping our precious files intact.