This thing is called a 5D optical data storage crystal. It's a little piece of fused quartz, etched to remarkable precision using a femtosecond ultraviolet laser.
The "5D" part of the name is just a marketing gimmick (it only has three dimensions, obviously), but it's impressive anyway. Using current technology, these little things can store 360 terabytes of data. Once written, these crystals can survive temperatures up to 1000°C, and could theoretically last for billions of years.
A betavoltaic device uses beta particles from radioactive decay to generate electricity. Basically, it works like a solar cell, but using radiation instead of light.
Hypothetically, this could be used to make batteries which last a long time. Using thin layers of radioactive carbon-14 sandwiched between layers of semiconductive diamond (which would also keep the radioactivity contained), tiny batteries like these could supply small amounts of power for thousands of years. Prototypes have been made using nickel-63 as the energy source,
@FuchsiaShock For real, imagine having a phone or something which you never need to charge. Just swap the battery out once every couple of decades and you're good!
@InvaderXan @FuchsiaShock i looked into this too a while back! the trouble is that betavoltaic cells have power output typically in the range of tens to hundreds of microwatts, which can be useful for low draw hard-to-reach applications, but many orders of magnitude lower than what a phone battery puts out (on the order of 1-10W). for that you'd need something more like a SNAP RTG, using the decay heat from a slug of plutonium to drive thermocouples. smaller slug in this case and thus cooler running, since it just needs a few watts and not the hundreds that space rated RTGs produce, but i don't know any other passive nuclear process that has power density comparable with lithium batteries. (and plutonium is also pretty hazardous, less for its alpha emissions than because it's a toxic heavy metal and also occasionally pyrophoric. idk how i'd feel about carrying that around in my pocket, however well shielded)
(also as someone who literally has an "atomkraft? ja, bitte!" sticker on her laptop i feel bound to note that we could probably most easily produce beta sources at industrial scale via neutron activation in a running reactor, the same way a lot of medical isotopes are made)
@InvaderXan Don't tell this to Musk. He'll mine all the radioactive carbon in the name of saving the planet.
@vicorva @InvaderXan it's actually new iteration of quite old and commonly used technology. Most of our deep space probes are powered by RTG devices https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator that is devices that use heat gradient between radionuclide and environment to produce electricity. I think Martian rover will also use that.
Soviet Union used RTG to power siberian lighthouses (before GPS). I think they had other wacky ideas for it but overally safety was a concern.
@Jo Low energy beta radiation is easy to contain. The concept here is to use layers of diamond which are thick enough to contain the radioactivity while also acting as semiconductors to generate electric current.
In short, if it’s properly constructed, it should be perfectly safe.
@Jo Side note: for a while, in the 20th century, people made wrist watches which used radioactive paint to make the numbers glow in the dark. Pretty clever idea, really. The watches themselves weren’t dangerous at all to the people wearing them, as radiation couldn’t escape from the glass and metal of the watch casing. The danger was to the factory workers who were assembling them, using radioactive paint for hours every day, which had the kind of effect you might expect.
But in a world where robots can do these jobs, that shouldn’t be a problem.
@InvaderXan @Jo Yeah, to minimize the risk of rupture, batteries should definitely be resistant to impact, tampering, and corrosion, as well as firesafe, given the flammability of diamonds. At smaller sizes, it's generally okay, but if these end up being used similarly to classic RTGs for longterm systems, the casing should be up to the task to avoid any INES events at large scales.
@bunny_jane @Sapphicgiraffic @Jo I’m still excited for the sugar batteries. I hope they turn out to be viable, because they’d certainly be environmentally friendly. https://solarpunk-aesthetic.tumblr.com/post/175493229780/sugar-batteries-one-big-challenge-in-renewable
@InvaderXan I think my favourite part is that in the '70s, a few people actually had pacemakers fitted that ran off betavoltaic cells.
It sounds like such a science-fictional concept, but there used to be cyborgs walking around whose hearts beat to the rhythm of a nuclear-powered implant.
(Nowadays, they're powered by lithium batteries instead, which somehow doesn't sound as cool).
@lilly Ooo yes, I read about this! Honestly, you’re so right, the idea of someone whose heart is powered by radiation from decaying atoms is just seriously cool!
Hay un start up muy propagandeado con esa idea. El problema es que no hay ningún avance respecto de lo que ya se sabe desde hace décadas, sólo hay confianza en que "nosotros lo lograremos". Como Elon con el neuralink o el hyperloop, son pibes que ser creen destinados a ser más vivos que la gente que se atascó en esos problemas antes.
@randomthoughts 1990s: Go to a video store to rent a movie
2090s: Every movie you could ever want to watch is stored on this little crystal, the size of a poker chip
Okay but this sounds like it's gonna have the same problem as high capacity tape where the information density makes it take forever to load.
Unless it doesn't, in which case I'll take 4 for my gaming rig.
@Chickiepup I have a feeling that when they made this thing to allow data to survive apocalypses and natural disasters, and potentially last longer than the Sun itself, optimising it for speed probably wasn't one of their main concerns.
@Chickiepup I'm pretty sure you'll be able to load one of these discs before the Sun dies. Which is an improvement over DAT tapes.
This reminds me of Project Silica (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/project-silica/)
Do you think the efforts are related?
@RadioAngel I was thinking specifically as a way to back up those libraries in case of catastrophes. You could fit an entire library of knowledge on just one of these things!
@InvaderXan Yup. It could eliminate library burnings which would be amazing. It would also be good for museums to have digital backups of their galleries because they tend to burn a lot too.
@RadioAngel @InvaderXan there's a lot of really cool high density storage media that have been developed. The problem, as I understand it (which might be wrong) is that it's really fucking difficult to read from them.
And, ya know, maybe you could write the Lord's Prayer on a grain of rice, but who would bother to read it?
@InvaderXan this reminds me of the joke in MiB with the tiny optical disc. "Guess I'm gonna have to buy the White Album again."
@InvaderXan wow! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/5D_optical_data_storage (needs a better wiki article though)
Sunbeam City is a anticapitalist, antifascist solarpunk instance that is run collectively.