Wed, Oct 10, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Winners of Nobel Prize for physics named in Sweden


France's Albert Fert and German Peter Gruenberg won the 2007 Nobel Prize for physics yesterday for a discovery that has shrunk the size of hard drives found in computers, iPods and other digital devices.

The duo discovered a totally new physical effect that has let the computer industry develop sensitive reading tools for information stored on computer hard drives from the tiniest laptops to feature-rich portable music and video players.

"The MP3 and iPod industry would not have existed without this discovery," said Borje Johansson, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. "You would not have an iPod without this effect."

In its citation, the academy said the discovery could also be considered "one of the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology," the science dedicated to building materials from the molecular level.

"Applications of this phenomenon have revolutionized techniques for retrieving data from hard disks," the prize citation said.

"The discovery also plays a major role in various magnetic sensors as well as for the development of a new generation of electronics," it said.

Fert, 69, is the scientific director of the Mixed Unit for Physics at CNRS/Thales, while Gruenberg, 68, is a professor at the Institute of Solid State Research in western Germany.

In 1988 the pair independently discovered the physical effect known as giant magnetoresistance. In this effect, very weak changes in magnetism generate larger changes in electrical resistance.

This is how information stored magnetically on a hard disk can be converted to electrical signals that the computer reads.

Both realized at an early stage that their discoveries would have a huge impact. In his first scientific publication on the effect, Fert predicted it would generate important applications.

Gruenberg went a step further and filed a patent as he was writing his first scientific publication on the discovery, the academy said.

"The development of computers showed in the last years that this was an important contribution," Gruenberg told Sweden's TV4 channel shortly after being told he was sharing the prize with Fert.

The pair will split the 10 million Swedish kronor (US$1.5 million) prize.

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