Award For Science Behind Data Storage Technologies | Chemical & Engineering News
Issue Date: October 9, 2007

Award For Science Behind Data Storage Technologies

Two researchers share prize for discovery that enabled high-density computer hard disks
Department: Science & Technology
Credit: CNRS Photothéque/Christophe Lebedinsky
Credit: CNRS Photothéque/Christophe Lebedinsky
Credit: Research Center Jülich
Credit: Research Center Jülich

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to two researchers who independently discovered a physical effect—giant magnetoresistance (GMR)—that led to a new technology for reading data on computer hard disks, as well as a new field of science, magnetoelectronics.

Albert Fert of France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Paris-Sud, in Orsay, France, and Peter Grünberg of the Institute of Solid State Research in Jülich, Germany, will share the $1.5 million prize.

The Fert and Gr??nberg research groups discovered GMR independently in the late 1980s, using different combinations of nanosized layers of magnetic iron and nonmagnetic chromium. When they placed the materials in an external magnetic field, the researchers observed a surprisingly large change in the materials??? electrical resistance; that is, they observed GMR.

The first magnetic sensors based on the GMR effect that could access information stored on high-density computer hard disks were introduced in 1997. Now, some music players are also based on this technology. The sensors read tightly packed data on hard disks by registering the electron spin of magnetic bits on the disk.

"The discovery of GMR opened the door to a new field of science, magnetoelectronics (or spintronics), where two fundamental properties of the electron, namely its charge and its spin, are manipulated simultaneously," according to the Nobel Foundation. "Thousands of scientists around the world are today working on magnetoelectronic phenomena and their exploration. The story of GMR is a very good demonstration of how a totally unexpected scientific discovery can give rise to completely new technologies and commercial products," they add.

The researchers will receive their awards at a ceremony in Stockholm in December.

Chemical & Engineering News
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