Holographic data storage: a breakthrough in information preservation

6th April 2024
Paige West

TU Wien researchers have unveiled a novel method of data storage that utilises holographic techniques, diverging from traditional digital or hard disk storage methods.

This approach employs a 3D printer to embed data, such as a QR code, into a standard plastic panel, showcasing a straightforward yet effective method of storing information in a physical object.

The essence of holography

Holography distinguishes itself from conventional imaging by its unique data storage mechanism. Unlike traditional images where each pixel occupies a fixed position, a hologram's information is disseminated across the entire surface. This means that even if a segment of the hologram is removed, the remaining part can still reconstruct the entire image, albeit in a potentially less clear form. This principle underpins the holographic data storage method, where information is not stored in discrete pixels but is instead spread throughout the hologram.

Harnessing terahertz rays

Evan Constable from the Institute of Solid State Physics at TU Wien spearheaded the research, focusing on the application of terahertz beams. Terahertz rays, which fall within a frequency range of approximately one hundred to several thousand gigahertz, possess qualities akin to those of cellular and microwave radiation but operate at a significantly higher frequency. These rays, when directed at a thin plastic plate, traverse it with minimal obstruction. However, due to the plate's higher refractive index compared to air, it alters the incoming waves slightly. By precisely adjusting the plate's thickness at various points, it's possible to manipulate these terahertz waves to construct a specific image through wave interference.

The process is analogous to creating a particular wave pattern in a pond by strategically dropping stones into the water. Through careful calculations, the team at TU Wien managed to encode a Bitcoin wallet address into a plastic plate. Illuminating this plate with terahertz rays of the correct wavelength generates an image that reveals the encoded information.

Practical applications and future potential

This technique not only demonstrates a cost-effective method of storing data but also highlights the technological strides made in manipulating terahertz radiation. The ability to store substantial value, such as a Bitcoin wallet address, in a piece of inexpensive plastic presents intriguing possibilities for secure and efficient data storage. Evan Constable and his team have made the code for calculating the required thickness profile of the plate publicly available, ensuring that anyone with access to a 3D printer can replicate this holographic storage method.

This breakthrough not only sheds light on the potential of holography for data preservation but also underscores the precision with which the relatively unexplored terahertz spectrum can be utilised in today's technology landscape. As research continues to evolve, the application of such innovative storage solutions could revolutionise the way we safeguard and retrieve information in the future.

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