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  • Nanotechnologists Win Nobel
Oct 2007
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Oct. 9, 2007 -- Two Europeans were awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics today for their discovery of a new technology for reading information stored on hard drives. Their research, one of the first applications of nanotechnology, has allowed the shrinking of hard drives for use today in ever-smaller devices such as MP3 players and laptop computers.

Nobel.jpgThe Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the $1.5 million prize jointly to France's Albert Fert and Germany's Peter Grünberg, who in 1988 independently discovered a new physical effect -- Giant Magnetoresistance, or GMR. The effect led to the breakthrough in gigabyte hard drives, used in virtually every computer produced today, and laid the foundation for the field of spintronics, which exploits the quantum mechanical spin of electrons for microelectronics and nanoelectronics.

Their basic research made possible the development of high-performance read/write heads for hard drives. A hard disk stores information, such as music, in the form of microscopically small areas magnetized in different directions. A read-out head scans the disk and registers the magnetic changes as it retrieves the information. Very weak magnetic changes give rise to major differences in electrical resistance in a GMR system, making it the perfect tool for reading data from hard disks when information registered magnetically has to be converted to electric current.

In 1997 the first read-out head was produced based on the GMR effect and soon became the technology standard. Even today's read-out techniques, which must detect fainter magnetic signals on tinier hard disks, are based on GMR, the academy said in announcing the Nobel.

The GMR effect was discovered thanks to new techniques developed during the 1970s to produce very thin layers of different materials. For the GMR effect to work, structures consisting of layers that are only a few atoms thick have to be produced. For this reason, GMR can also be considered one of the first real applications of nanotechnology, the academy said.

Fert has been a professor at the Université Paris-Sud, Orsay, France, since 1976 and scientific director of the Mixed Unit for Physics at CNRS/Thales in Orsay since 1995. Grunberg has been a professor at The Research Center of Solid State Physics in Jülich, Germany, since 1972. They also shared the 2007 Japan Prize in the category "Innovative Devices Inspired by Basic Research" for their GMR work.

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The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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