Diamonds May Soon Be Your Data's Best Friend

Physicists are investigating the long-term data storage properties of diamonds.

Sparkling diamond
Image source: Sararwut Jaimassiri/Shutterstock

We all know how important it is to back up our data. The more important the data is — family photos, legal documents, and so — the more critical it is to have a copy stashed away somewhere safe. Something we don't like to think about, though, is that our current storage media degrade over time. Hard drives, solid state drives, DVDs, you name it. For each and every one of us, a day is coming when we reach for data we can no longer retrieve. And as digital cameras and other devices continue to increase the amount of data we generate, finding ample storage space is an issue in the first place. Now the New York Times reports that physicists at City College of New York have released a paper that suggests storing our data in diamonds may be the solution. Diamonds don't degrade as other materials do, and even a tiny sliver of a diamond smaller than a grain of rice and thinner than paper can already hold a hundred times the data a DVD can.

It's a fascinating idea based on a diamond's imperfections. All diamonds have them, from the Zoe diamond to the ones you see in jewelry case at the mall.

Diamonds are made up of carbon, but occasionally a nitrogen atom will sneak into the diamond's molecular structure, creating a negatively charged "nitrogen vacancy center." If you remove a carbon atom next to the nitrogen atom, a space is left behind, ad it's this space in which data can be stored.

The paper's authors have already been testing how data can be stored in these empty cavities, like these grayscale photos of Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger they "painted" using electrons.


The presence of absence of an electron works much like the 1s and 0s of standard digital storage. To add and electron, they use a green laser; to remove one, they use red.

DVDs encodes a 0 as a depressions, or "pit," in its single surface. In diamond storage, though, electrons can be written in layers, allowing for much higher storage capacities. And, as any British secret agent knows, "diamonds are forever."

An issue with the medium is that, being light-based, a blast of strong sunlight might erasedata. This is obviously something that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, researchers have joked about a person carrying her wedding photos inside her engagement ring.

Also, of course, there's the issue of cost. A diamond of any kind can be used — it doesn't need to be an expensive one, though "the bigger the diamond, the more defects, the more places to put information," a grad student who worked on the paper, Jack Henshaw, told the Times. But still, it is diamonds we're talking about. Maybe the next study should look into storing data in a cubic zirconia.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Modern society is as unequal as 14th century Europe

As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.

"Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius"

Getty Open Content
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
  • The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
  • Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Keep reading Show less

You are suffering from “tab overload”

Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Technology & Innovation
  • A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
  • The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
  • The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
Keep reading Show less
Personal Growth

Epicurus and the atheist's guide to happiness

Seek pleasure and avoid pain. Why make it more complicated?