French professor Albert Fert (left) and German professor Peter Grünberg congratulate each other shortly after the Nobel announcement.  (Source: Research Centre Jülich, Peter Grünberg )
Nobel Prize awarded for discovery in magnetic storage breakthrough made in 1970s

The Nobel Prize is synonymous to many with developments and inventions that revolutionize a particular field. This year the Nobel Prize in Physics has gone to French scientist Albert Fert and German Peter Grünberg.

The pair won the 2007 Nobel Prize for physics for their discovery of the phenomenon of “giant magnetoresistance,” or GMR. This phenomenon is where weak changes in magnetic resistance give rise to big differences in electrical resistance. This is one of the core principles that allows for the development of sensitive reading tools for retrieving magnetically sorted data in devices from computers to portable media players.

The Nobel Foundation regards Fert and Grunberg's accomplishment as "one of the first major applications of nanotechnology."

BBC News quotes Professor Ben Murdin of the University of Surrey, UK, as saying, “Without [giant magnetoresistance] you would not be able to store more than one song on your iPod!" Murdin went on to tell BBC News, “A computer hard-disk reader that uses a GMR sensor is equivalent to a jet flying at a speed of 30,000 kmps, at a height of just one metre above the ground, and yet being able to see and catalogue every single blade of grass it passes over."

Albert Fert became the first scientist to coin the concept of GMR and subsequently became the first scientist to publish on it.  Grünberg came to similar conclusions independently, and became the first patent holder for the technology.

An unsung hero of GMR, Stuart Parkin, industrialized the GMR process developed by  Fert and Grünberg, and the first commercial hard drives featuring GMR appeared in 1997.

This technology has made the miniaturization of hard drives that we have seen on recent years possible. The Nobel Prize awarded to Fert and Grunberg comes years after they made the discovery of giant magnetoresistance in the 1970s allowing for the pioneering of high capacity magnetic storage devices.

The two scientists will split the an award of approximately 1.5 million USD, though both have become independently wealthy over the last thirty years based on their involvement with GMR.

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