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UK physicist Stuart Parkin wins Millennium technology prize

Warwick Ashford

UK-born physicist Stuart Parkin (pictured) has won the 2014 Millennium technology prize for a breakthrough in magnetic disk drive storage capacity.

His pioneering contribution to the science and application of spintronic materials has led to a “prodigious growth” in the capacity to store digital information, the award committee said.

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Parkin applied the phenomenon of giant magnetoresistance (GMR) to create extremely sensitive devices that can detect tiny magnetic fields, heralding the era of cloud computing, reports the Guardian.

The more sensitive the detector is, the smaller the magnetic regions and fields need to be to store the information, which means more data can be packed on to a hard disk drive.

The foundation behind the award said he had made Facebook, Google, Amazon and other online services possible.

The breakthrough enabled 1,000-fold improvement in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives without changing their cost.

Parkin joins previous prizewinners Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, and Linux creator Linus Torvalds in scooping the €1m biennial award from Technology Academy Finland.

The Watford-born physicist is an IBM Fellow based at the Almaden Research Centre in California and director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics.

Looking to the future, Parkin hopes to lead a further storage revolution with an experimental technology he is developing for the IBM called Racetrack memory, reports the BBC.

The goal is to exploit spintronics to create a new type of storage that would consume less energy than magnetic disk drives, but be as high-performing as solid-state flash memory.

Science minister, David Willetts, said: "The success of this British born scientist demonstrates how the world of science and innovation is a truly global endeavour.

I hope his achievement will inspire and encourage others to support our work to stay ahead in the global science race,” he said.


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