Southampton develops new glass memory and associated lingo

August 21, 2011

Southampton develops new glass memory and associated lingoResearchers at the University of Southampton have come up with a new form of memory made from silica glass and using lasers to read and write on it.  The researchers say that this will reduce the cost of medical imaging.  Anything that reduces medical costs is wonderful.

Of course you will need to learn a whole new vocabulary and enter the realm of science fiction.  Richard Gray at The Telegraph likened this breakthrough to Superman’s memory crystals.  Scientists at South Hampton use such terms as “voxel” and “form birefringence”.  They talk about five dimensional recording.  If that doesn’t sound like something from a futuristic science fiction movie, I don’t know what does.

The team lead by Peter Kazansky published their findings in an article entitled Radially polarized optical vortex converter created by femtosecond laser nanostructuring of glass published in Applied Physics Letters.  The article,

describe how they have used nano-structures to develop new monolithic glass space-variant polarisation converters. These millimetre-sized devices change the way light travels through glass, generating ‘whirlpools’ of light that can then be read in much the same way as data in optical fibres. This enables more precise laser material processing, optical manipulation of atom-sized objects, ultra-high resolution imaging and potentially, table-top particle accelerators. Information can be written, wiped and rewritten into the molecular structure of the glass using a laser.
According to the researchers, at sufficient intensities, ultra-short laser pulses can be used to imprint tiny dots (like 3D pixels) called ‘voxels’ in glass. Their previous research showed that lasers with fixed polarisation produce voxels consisting of a periodic arrangement of ultra-thin (tens of nanometers) planes. By passing polarised light through such a voxel imprinted in silica glass, the researchers observed that it travels differently depending on the polarisation orientation of the light. This ‘form birefringence’ phenomenon is the basis of their new polarisation converter.”

Basically they use short wave lasers to write information on incredibly tiny layers of glass and can read the information by using the same lasers.  Yes there is a lot more to it, just reread the paragraph above.

Rather than using a £20,000 liquid crystal spatial light modulator, they can use a much cheaper tiny device to accomplish the same thing.  The glass memory can last forever unlike our current types of memory used in computers and other devices.  This glass memory doesn’t degrade like hard drives, tapes, and other forms of electromagnetic memory storage.

Glass memory is not quite ready for primetime so we still have time to learn the new lingo like “voxel”, and “birefringence”.  You almost expect such terms as “dilithium crystals” and “warp speed” to be thrown about as well.  I almost feel like I should be wearing a cape and avoiding kryptonite just by using this terminology.

Photo titled “Optical vortex converter” courtesy of the University of Southampton

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