Taking Big Data for a Spin

Jonathan Strickland

Frederick Bass/Getty Images
Frederick Bass/Getty Images

Remember when we talked about Big Data? It was just last week. Tell you what, I'll throw the video in at the bottom of this post if you want to catch up. Anyway, one of the challenges of generating so much data is storing the darn stuff. You'd think 0s and 1s wouldn't take up that much space and yet there are entire warehouses stacked floor to ceiling with storage computers.

It's reached the point where even Blu-ray disks don't measure up. Back when they launched in 2006, Blu-rays blew my mind. A double-layer Blu-ray can hold around 128 gigabytes of data. "Why would you need more than that?" I cried out, hands stretched up to the heavens.

Enter ultra-high-definition video formats, 3-D technology and programs that would find 128 GB just a bit too snug for their liking. What to do? One option is to create some other form of storage medium and abandon the old optical format. Another is to scoff in the face of limitation and design an even better type of optical disk. Guess which choice Professor Jingyu Zhang went with?

Zhang has created a new type of optical disk that can be manufactured with a femtosecond laser. A femtosecond is one-quandrillionth of a second. This short burst laser's job is to create crystal structures within a disk of glass. Zhang is calling it Superman crystal. If you want to know why, you need to watch some Superman movies. Might I suggest the 1978 classic starring Christopher Reeve?

The crystal nanostructures in the glass will represent bits of data. The position of the crystal within three axes -- x, y and z -- along with the crystal's size and orientation determine the type of data stored. For the time being, Zhang has only encoded 300 kilobytes on one of these disks. But Zhang believes we may be able to fit as much as 360 terabytes of data on a single Superman crystal disk. That's more than 2,800 Blu-ray disks' worth of information!

Oh, and here's that video about Big Data I promised you at the top of the blog post. And you thought I'd forget, didn't you?