QR codes etched into Tungsten can save vital information for millions of years

Researchers have developed an optical information carrier that can store information for extremely long periods of time, with each bit being written using etching techniques. The chosen information carrier is a wafer consisting of tungsten encapsulated by silicon nitride. Tungsten was chosen because it can withstand extreme temperatures. A QR code is etched into the tungsten (see picture) and is protected by the nitride. Each pixel of the large QR code contains a smaller QR code that in turn stores different information. “In principle, we can store everything on the disc that we believe is worthwhile saving: for example, a digital image of the Mona Lisa. In this study we tested a digital copy of the chapter about this medium from my thesis”, says De Vries.

Current hard disk drives have the ability to store vast amounts of data but last roughly ten years at room temperature, because their magnetic energy barrier is low so that the information is lost after a period of time. CDs, DVDs, paper, tape, clay and tablets and stone also have a limited life.

When heated to 713 Kelvin (440 degrees Celsius) it becomes a lot more difficult to decypher the QR codes even if the tungsten is not affected. A follow-up study would be to investigate whether the data carrier also can withstand higher temperatures, for example during a house fire. But if we can find a place that is very stable, such as a nuclear storage facility, then the disc itself and the data that is on it should be able to endure millions of years.

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