Hard drive pioneers awarded Nobel Prize

A discovery that has helped hard drive makers cram more data onto discs has won two scientists the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics.

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A discovery that has helped hard drive makers cram more data onto discs has won two scientists the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics.

Scientists Albert Fert of France and Peter Grunberg of Germany will share the prize for simultaneously discovering giant magnetoresistance (GMR), a physical effect that "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 Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Nobel citation.

Fert is a professor with Université Paris-Sud in Orsay. Grunberg is affiliated with the Research Centre in Julich.

They made their discovery in 1988 but within 10 years it was commercialised by vendors such as IBM, who developed ways of mass-producing hard drives that capitalised on this effect to store data much more densely than before.

GMR material has changed the storage industry, Dean said. IBM leveraged the technology by integrating GMR technology into hard drive designs, which doubled the capacity of its drives every year, Dean said. "That fueled the growth of storage of information and without it we would not be listening to music on an iPod," he said.

Portable music players with high capacity storage are a fruit of this revolutionary phenomenon, the Nobel citation noted. "With a music player in the pocket of each and everyone, few still stop to think about how many CDs' worth of music its tiny hard disc can actually hold." the citation said.

The GMR effect replaced earlier technology of induction coils as read-out heads in hard drives. Induction coils are still used to write data on the disc. IBM is now looking to apply GMR technology to tape storage and MRAM (magnetoresistive random access memory), memory that stores data bits using magnetic charges.

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