Prof. Stuart Parkin received the 2014 Millennium Technology Prize in recognition of his discoveries, which have enabled a thousand-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives. Parkin’s innovations have led to a huge expansion of data acquisition and storage capacities, which in turn have underpinned the evolution of large data centres and cloud services, social networks, music and film distribution online.
We can now stream movies, use social media and search information on the internet because all that information is stored in magnetic disk drives in the cloud. The information is stored in disk drives, because it is a cost-efficient means of storing data thanks to the spintronic device. Parkin cites estimates that a month’s supply of disk drives could easily store all the information known since the beginning of mankind.
Basically all this information is available in the cloud due to this little spintronic device that allows us to read it. Our contemporary online world is largely possible because of these atomically-thin magnetic structures.
Successful field of nanotechnology
Professor Parkin’s discoveries rely on magneto-resistive thin-film structures and the development of the giant magnetoresistance (GMR) spin-valve read head. Following the discovery of GMR in 1988, Parkin rapidly transformed this scientific observation into a practical data storage technology.
Parkin is a leading innovator in the field of spintronics, which relies on the magnetic spin of electrons rather than their charge to store bits, and is one of the most successful fields of nanotechnology yet. Another key spintronics advance is magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), which Parkin proposed in 1995. This technology is based on magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) memory cells. The MTJ, a close cousin of the GMR spin valve, has become standard in hard disk drive read heads.