Chemistry and Biochemistry

Digital Immortality

Posted: Sep 05, 2014

From the elixir of life to the fountain of youth, people have been searching for a way into immortality since humans could think.

Although science hasn’t led us that far yet, Dr. Barry Lunt from the BYU College of Informational Technology and Dr. Matthew Linford from the BYU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have created a way for our digital information to be immortal—or, at least, nearly so.

On July 21, Lunt and Linford met with Marcus Smith for The Morning Show on BYU Radio to talk about their creation of the M Disk.

The M Disk—M standing for the Roman numeral symbolizing one thousand—can store digital information in perfect condition for one thousand years. This is in contrast with regular DVDs or CDs that hold information for only four to five years before degrading.

“This is a DVD that is compatible with all DVD drives once you write to it,” Lunt said. “A Blu-ray disk version of it has also been developed, and it can be written to or read from any BD drive in the world. It’s a disk—about 5 gigabytes for the DVD and 25 gigabytes for the Blu-ray disk.”

The M Disk functions exactly like a regular DVD or Blu-ray disk, and material can be stored on it in the exact same manner. The key to the creation of the M Disk was developing a better data-storing alloy to sit inside its polycarbonate sheathe.

“It was a matter of looking at the materials and identifying which would last for at least a thousand years,” Linford said. “These disks are made of polycarbonate. Polycarbonate itself is good for about fifteen hundred years. What was critical then was finding the right layer—what is in the middle of the sandwich—an alloy that would have this longevity.”

While the composition of this alloy is proprietary, Linford said that it has a relatively low melting point so that it will melt when hit by the focused laser in an optical drive. In addition, the alloy had to be carefully designed to keep it from oxidizing.

“We needed to add something in to keep it from oxidizing, because when the metal we chose oxidizes, it becomes transparent, and then you wouldn’t have any optical contrast,” Linford said. “We needed to add in another element as well as keep it from crystalizing—we wanted it to be more or less amorphous. We didn’t want to have crystallites that would reflect the light in a way that would cause trouble with this optical device.”

The M Disk will be primarily marketed as a long-term digital archival disk. People are encouraged to use the M Disks to store information such as family photos or precious documents.

Paul Brockbank, the CEO of Millenniata (the company that has the rights to the M Disk technology) said that contracts have already been signed with big companies like HP, Acer, and Asus in order to integrate the firm-ware or the writing capabilities into their PCs.

“Our hope is in two or three years every optical drive will have M-ready technology,” Brockbank said.

To listen to the entire episode of The Morning Show on BYU Radio, click here.


August 20, 2014

—Mackenzie Brown, The College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences