‘Predicted headline for tomorrow’s Sun: “iPod wins the Nobel Prize” . ‘ So writes Oliver Morton on Nature’s Great Beyond blog, in describing this year’s Nobel prize for physics, won by Albert Fert of the University of Paris-Sud and Peter Grünberg of the Jülich Research Centre for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance.
From the Nobel foundation’s press release: "In 1988 the Frenchman Albert Fert and the German Peter Grünberg each independently discovered a totally new physical effect – Giant Magnetoresistance or GMR. Very weak magnetic changes give rise to major differences in electrical resistance in a GMR system. A system of this kind is the perfect tool for reading data from hard disks when information registered magnetically has to be converted to electric current. Soon researchers and engineers began work to enable use of the effect in read-out heads. In 1997 the first read-out head based on the GMR effect was launched and this soon became the standard technology. Even the most recent read-out techniques of today are further developments of GMR.
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."