Researchers create photonic jet storage

June 4, 2008 // 10:06 a.m.

Tags: #blu-ray #cd #disc #disk #dvd #hd-dvd #light #optical #photonic-jet #photons #removable #storage

For those of you always looking ahead to the next big computing breakthrough, prepare yourselves for increased storage capacity on optical media via photonic jets.

An article over on Ars Technica explains the work being carried out by a team of engineers at Northwestern University, Illinois and published last week in Applied Physics Letters.

The research, which holds the promise of massively increased optical disc storage, is based around an interesting interaction between beams of light and glass spheres: basically, when light hits the sphere a photonic jet is emitted from the opposite side at a wavelength far lower than that of the original light. While this beam rapidly spreads, if an optical storage system is placed within the focus of the photonic jet the technology should be able to boost data density far higher than has been possible thus far with blue laser systems such as Blu-Ray.

The increase in capacity over the current leader in optical disc storage, Blu-Ray, is expected to be on the order of a factor of two on a single-layer disc; should the technology scale further than has been possible in the early experiments with microwave radiation carried out by the team – and technology has a tendency to improve rapidly once a prototype has been manufactured and the concept proven – we could realistically expect a further two or four-fold increase in storage capacity.

The main drawback with commercialisation of the technology isn't in the manufacturing stage – the glass sphere required for the generation of the photonic jet is around two micrometers, well within current manufacturing capabilities – but in the execution: the sphere which focusses the light beam would be required to hover somewhere in the region of two hundred nanometres above the rapidly spinning disc without ever coming into contact with its surface. To put that into perspective, an average size human hair is 80,000 nanometres in width.

As is often the case with such technological advances, there are currently no plans to produce a commercialised version of the photonic jet disc. That said, it wouldn't surprise me to find that this ended up replacing Blu-Ray when the time comes, if holographic storage doesn't get there first.

Do you think this'll be the next big thing in removable storage, or is the short focal length going to cause issues when it comes to building a viable product? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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