Video: Pair shares Nobel Prize for physics

updated 10/9/2007 7:06:22 AM ET 2007-10-09T11:06:22

France’s Albert Fert and German Peter Gruenberg won the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for a discovery that lets billions of computer users store reams of data on computer hard drives.

The technology “can also be considered one of the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology,” which deals with extremely small devices, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its citation.

“Applications of this phenomenon have revolutionized techniques for retrieving data from hard disks,” the prize citation said. “The discovery also plays a major role in various magnetic sensors as well as for the development of a new generation of electronics.”

In 1988 Fert and Gruenberg each independently discovered a physical effect called giant magnetoresistance. In this effect, very weak changes in magnetism generate larger changes in electrical resistance. This is how information stored magnetically on a hard disk can be converted to electrical signals that the computer reads.

‘Important contribution’
“The development of computers showed in the last years that this was an important contribution,” Gruenberg told Sweden’s TV4 channel shortly after being told he was sharing the prize with Fert.

Image: Fert and Gruenberg
Toru Yamanaka  /  AFP - Getty Images file
French physicist Albert Fert, left, shares this year's Nobel Physics Prize with Germany's Peter Gruenberg, right. The two independently discovered giant magnetoresistance, which plays a key role in nanoscale information storage.
Last year, Americans John C. Mather and George F. Smoot won for their work examining the infancy of the universe, studies that have aided the understanding of galaxies and stars and increasing support for the Big Bang theory of the beginning of the universe.

On Monday, two American scientists, Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies, and Briton Sir Martin J. Evans, won the 2007 Nobel Prize in medicine for groundbreaking discoveries that led to a powerful technique for manipulating mouse genes.

Prizes for chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced through Oct. 15.

The peace award is announced in Oslo, while the other prizes are announced in Stockholm. The prizes, each of which carries a cash prize of $1.5 million, were established in the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.

The Nobel prizes are always presented to the winners on the Dec. 10 anniversary of the death of its creator.

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