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Image:Marco Warmuth / MPI für Mikrostrukturphysik
Research priorities: Spintronics, nanotechnology, giant magnetoresistance (GMR effect), storage media, computer drives, racetrack memory
Stuart Parkin is a British physicist whose focus is the field of spintonics. By researching the interactions of thin material layers, he discovered that the giant magnetoresistance (GMR effect) in many materials had practical applications. Parkin used this discovery to develop innovative read heads for computer hard disc drives and thereby made high-capacity computers storages possible.
Stuart Parkin investigated extremely thin material layers like, for example, those used in computer chips to establish their storage capacity potential. He showed how the GMR effect (giant magnetoresistance) could be used in practical applications. Parkin utilized the spin of electrons in his work. Spintronics uses this tiny magnetic field that is present in every electron for processing and coding information. The GMR effect occurs in structures that consist of alternating layers of magnetic and non-magnetic material whereby an external magnetic field can influence the direction of electrons´ spins and in this way change the electrical resistance of the stacked layers.
Parkin employed this effect in a sensor and developed a new type of read head for computer disc drives. Digital data can also be stored on hard drives in the form of microscopically small fields with different magnetisation directions. The read head has a sensor that, with the help of the magnetoresistance, can detect the direction of magnetisation. A read head with GMR effect can convert minute magnetic changes into sufficiently measurable distinctions in electrical resistance. Stuart Parkin´s read head allowed the storage capacity of hard drives to be increased considerably. Nowadays practically every computer utilizes the giant magnetoresistance effect.
Parkin is currently involved in research focusing on energy-saving storage for the technologies of the future. He developed the “Racetrack Memory”, a three-dimensional storage medium based on spintronics with an even higher degree of storage density. There are no longer any moving parts in this storage system. The data bits are stored on nanometer thin wires made of a magnetic material. The magnetic “domains” (structuring) are “pushed” back and forth within nanowire. In the future, Stuart Parkin also wants to develop switching circuits that function like the human brain, where the circuits become stronger the more they are used.