Ever pop in that old Hanson cassette tape only to find it doesn't play quite as well as it once did? Perhaps the "mmm's" in "MMMBop" are a bit scratchy, or the thing won't play well at all. That's because magnetic tape degrades over time, but it's what most research labs use to store data. Quartz might prove to be the end of that, however.
Hitachi got together with Kyoto University's Kiyotaka Miura and created "semiperpetual" slivers of quartz glass, which might not sound interesting until you consider this: the stuff can hold data for hundreds of millions of years without degrading one bit. "MMMBop" would never lose its luster.
It's made of a two centimeter wide and two millimeters thick rectangle and features four layers of dots that were created with a femtosecond laser. Those dots hold binary information, and because they're stuck inside of quartz, simple surface erosion (think scratches on a CD) won't have an effect.
Heat, water, chemicals, weathering: none of this hurts it. In a test, it was exposed to 1,000-degree heat for two hours, and it was fine. It's got the storage density of a CD, but more layers can always be added for size.
So what took us so long? A good question, and if this prototype is everything it's cracked up to be, it's hard to imagine a worldwhere we wouldn't be using it.