What is 5-dimensional data, and when will it be available to the public?

Scientists at the University of Southampton have developed a 5D glass disc that can store 360 Terabytes of data for billions of years. The discs are made out of nanostructured glass, and the data is stored and retrieved using femtosecond laser writing. These discs can store data for up to 13.8 billion years, that's over twice the estimated age of the Earth, and about equal to the estimated age of our universe. Essentially, the discs are made by a laser that can make microscopic etchings in nanoglass. 


Some famous documents lasered into 5D discs


So what exactly do they mean by 5-dimensional? Traditionally, we think of our universe in terms of the 4 known and easily perceptible dimensions. The first 3 dimensions are our directions of movement or an XYZ axis; the 4th dimension is traditionally thought of as time. These 4 dimensions combined are referred to as spacetime. Unfortunately, this can cause quite a bit of confusion. The 5-dimensional discs made by the University of Southampton are not time traveling devices that can view parallel universes, but instead tiny patterns printed on 3 layers within the discs. Depending on the angle they are viewed from, these patterns can look completely different. This may sound like science fiction, but it's basically a really fancy optical illusion. In this case, the 5 dimensions inside of the discs are the size and orientation in relation to the 3-dimensional position of the nanostructures. The concept of being 5-dimensional means that one disc has several different images depending on the angle that one views it from, and the magnification of the microscope used to view it. Basically, each disc has multiple layers of micro and macro level images.


A laser burning microscopic images into 3 layers

Since glass is plentiful and inexpensive, this technology has a very good chance to become widely available in the future. People are already thinking of uses for this technology, everything from storing an immense library of video games to storing the entirety of human history and culture for future civilizations. Professor Peter Kazansky is very optimistic about the technology's potential, he elaborated in an interview with the University of Southampton's news publication:

"It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations. This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten."


By using 5-dimensional shapes that are laser-etched into glass discs at a microscopic scale, the University of Southampton has developed the highest storage efficiency in a data storage device to date. The discs also have the longest life-span of any data storage device to date. With all of the amazing things that they can do, people all over the world are excited to get their hands on one. If you're one of those people, you're in luck; the team at Southampton is currently looking for partners to invest in this technology in hopes that it can be commercialized in the future. It could only be a matter of time before this kind of data storage is the norm.






  • thebuttonthief 2016-02-24

    Isn’t glass technically a liquid? Doesn’t it’s shape mutate with time?

    • tim yb 2016-02-24

      That’s a great question! Glass will warp and lose shape over time, which is why the discs were made with nanostructured glass, which has different physical properties than glass. Here’s an article that shows how nanostructured glass is made, and lists some of its properties if you’d like to learn more:


  • GrahamRounce 2016-03-04

    If the disc has all that capacity, and lasts so long, it wouldn’t hurt to use the inner or outer few mm for a pictorial aliens’ guide on how to read it. Otherwise it will eventually go the same way as some of the data on eg floppy discs already has - into the file marked ‘????’.

  • GrahamRounce 2016-03-04

    Lol. 13 billion years… what are the chances that before that, someone’s going to tread on it?

  • Vabeachmike 2016-03-04

    I love how every time a new data storage technology comes out, there’s always some extravagant claim that it will last forever… I lost a ton of data on CD-R because of this.  :S

  • gnagy 2016-03-04

    Read / write speed?
    Is it rewritable?
    The article left out the most important parameters.

    • Jojo58 2016-04-10

      I don’t think it’s rewritable, but since it has so much space you can just write on another section of the disc.

  • Jojo58 2016-04-10

    That’s a good invention, but if you’d like to efficently access the data stored on a disc like that, you’d need to have another disc storing information about where on the disk the data is located plus the orientation of the disc and strength of the laser. Otherways it might take quite some time to search for data on a disk like that.