Nobel Prize Goes To Duo That Made IPods Possible

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

Fert and Grunberg picked up the prize for discovering Giant Magnetoresistance (GMR), an innovation each came to independently in 1998. In multilayer structures of magnetic and non-magnetic materials, the scientists discovered magnetization-dependent changes in electrical resistance.

IBM researcher Stuart Parkin soon after began working on technology for industrial exploitation of the GMR effect. Hard-disk drives store information in magnetized regions; GMR "read heads" can detect much weaker signals than could their predecessors, allowing manufactures to shrink the drives' physical size. Nine years after GMR's discovery, IBM and other manufacturers began shipping GMR-based hard disk drives. The technology is now an industry standard.

In an interview conducted soon after the Nobel Prize's announcement, Grunberg cited disk-drive advances as one of the most exciting outcomes of his discovery.

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"Economically, this really was a breakthrough for the hard disk drive," Grunberg said in a interview with Adam Smith, editor in chief of the official Nobel Prize Web site. "It is important in the context of computers. Computers have really changed our lives in the last few decades. I really enjoy very much to browse on the Internet."

With iPods and other disk-drive-dependent portal devices now ubiquitous, scientists are still exploring all of GMR's ramifications. One new frontier is biology, where GMR is being used for detection of genetic material. Grunberg, celebratory Champagne glass in hand, cited that as the most intriguing field of new GMR advances.

"This is a topic which is very broad and, if it works, has many, many applications," he said.