The 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics: Intriguing Industrial Applications

Author:  Kost Jeffery
Institution:  Physics/Mathematics
Date:  November 2007

One of the most anticipated annual events in the scientific community is undoubtedly the Nobel Prize for Physics. This is a prestigious award, which in recent memory has been dominated by purely scientific research interests such as blackbody radiation and elementary particle research. This year, French physicist Albert Fert and German physicist Peter Grünberg were awarded the prize for their independent discovery in 1988 of Giant Magnetoresistance (GMR).

GMR is a process of incredibly tiny magnetic changes on a system that produces sizeable changes in sectors of the system's electrical resistance. The practical result of this discovery (and an industrially profitable one) is its application to devices such as computer hard disks. A hard disk functions by magnetizing small portions of a disk to be either positive or negative, which is then read by a read-out head to be either a 1 or a 0 (a binary code). This binary code is then translated into machine code and then into increasingly complex computer languages.

What the discovery of GMR did was allow this idea to be incorporated into phenomenally (and previously unimaginably) small disks and magnetization sectors. In fact, just the name nanotechnology refers to the measurement scale of the system; nano-scale refers to billionths of a meter. By just attempting to visualize the minute scale this research must be conducted in, one may appreciate the grand implications that this breakthrough has had and will most defiantly exceed.

The discovery of GMR kick-started real-world nanotechnology; and the effects that it has had on commercial and scientific development cannot possibly be over-exaggerated. No doubt, many of the devices the general public utilizes on a daily basis, from iPods to laptop PCs, are a product of this scientific endeavor, pioneered by the now Nobel Laureates, Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg.

Written by Jeffrey Kost

Reviewed by Dean Corbaley, HoiSee Tsao

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.