26 Jan 2023

Green data storage, green walls

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 26 January 2023

More of us are making use of ‘the cloud’: we press save, and our precious photos, documents and data are stored, somewhere. But behind this ethereal shopfront is the physical reality of data storage, and its ever-growing needs.  

Close up of servers

Servers at the Wikimedia Foundation. Photo: Victorgrigas / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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The future of long-term data storage  

Optical storage discs such as CDs and Blu-ray had their heyday in the 90s. But they were quickly surpassed in terms of capacity by electromagnetic data storage on hard drives or solid-state drives.  

However, these drives have a short shelf-life: they must be replaced every 5–10 years or else data will be lost. Many also require power, contributing to data centres’ estimated consumption of 1–3% of global energy use.  

The ideal then, is a form of long-term data storage that is easy to write and read, can hold a lot of data, is stable across a long time, and doesn’t require constant power.  

Robinson Research Institute scientist Dr Joe Schuyt thinks that using luminescence to encode data into specialised materials might be the key to our growing data storage needs. Listen to hear how a blend of reading, thinking and chemical tinkering might help him figure it out. 

Joe is standing at a lab bench in front of a microscope. He's smiling and holding a sample of specialised material.

Dr Joe Schuyt in the lab. Photo: Claire Concannon / RNZ

Greening our cities 

Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, but also one of the greenest and most biodiverse. By law, developers must replace any natural area they develop with green space somewhere on the buildings. This means that plants are installed on roofs and drip from the walls.  

Should we be doing the same for our urban environments here in Aotearoa? And which plants would actually cope on windy Wellington walls?  

Victoria University of Wellington architecture PhD candidate Maggie McKinnon is testing whether native plants can hack it in a green wall set up in the city, as well as checking to see if there are benefits for local residents – including the feathered kind.  

Maggie McKinnon is standing in front of a vertical garden of lush green plants. She is smiling.

PhD candidate Maggie McKinnon in front of one of her study hanging gardens. Photo: Claire Concannon / RNZ

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