How CD Burners Work

Phase-change Compounds

In phase-change compounds, these shifts in form can be "locked into place": They persist even after the material cools down again. If you heat the compound in CD-RW discs to the melting temperature and let it cool rapidly, it will remain in a fluid, amorphous state, even though it is below the crystallization temperature. In order to crystallize the compound, you have to keep it at the crystallization temperature for a certain length of time so that it turns into a solid before it cools down again.

In the compound used in CD-RW discs, the crystalline form is translucent while the amorphous fluid form will absorb most light. On a new, blank CD, all of the material in the writable area is in the crystalline form, so light will shine through this layer to the reflective metal above and bounce back to the light sensor. To encode information on the disc, the CD burner uses its write laser, which is powerful enough to heat the compound to its melting temperature. These "melted" spots serve the same purpose as the bumps on a conventional CD and the opaque spots on a CD-R: They block the "read" laser so it won't reflect off the metal layer. Each non-reflective area indicates a 0 in the digital code. Every spot that remains crystalline is still reflective, indicating a 1.