iPods, better laptops stemmed from Nobel Prize discovery

Physicists’ Giant Magnetoresistance discovery enabled more compact hard disks

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to two researchers for their discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance (GMR), a sort of nanotechnology that enables more compact disks to be squeezed into laptops, iPods and other such devices.

The discovery was made separately in 1988 by Albert Fert of France and Peter Grunberg of Germany, though the technology didn't really take hold until the late 1990s.

GMR technology allows for data to be read from very compact disks. Here's a description from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which doles out the Nobel Prizes:

"A hard disk stores information, such as music, in the form of microscopically small areas magnetized in different directions. The information is retrieved by a read-out head that scans the disk and registers the magnetic changes. The smaller and more compact the hard disk, the smaller and weaker the individual magnetic areas.

"More sensitive read-out heads are therefore required if information has to be packed more densely on a hard disk. A read-out head based on the GMR effect can convert very small magnetic changes into differences in electrical resistance and therefore into changes in the current emitted by the read-out head. The current is the signal from the read-out head and its different strengths represent ones and zeros."

More background about the discovery is available here.

Last year, the prize went to John Mather and George Smoot "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation."

The real Nobel Prizes are being announced a week after the quirky Ig Nobel Prizes for weird science were announced at Harvard University.

Research into the mystery of wrinkles on bed sheets, the bottomless bowl of soup and the effect of Viagra on hamster jet lag dominated those awards.

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Network World staff

Network World

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