Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Space Industry and Business News  

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Small is beautiful: Incredible shrinking memory drives new IT

by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Oct 9, 2007
Over the past decade, hard drives have shrunk to the size of postage stamps while their storage capacity has improved fifty-fold, a feat that can be traced to two men who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday.

From MP3 players to cameras to laptops, most of the gadgets that store the digital threads from which our daily lives are increasingly woven owe their enhanced power to this hard-disk breakthrough.

"It has revolutionized everything from iPods to mobile phones," said Matin Durrani, editor of Physics World, a journal published by Britain's Institute of Physics.

Along with people in the trillion-dollar hard-drive industry, Durrani was delighted that the physics Nobel -- usually given for highly theoretical work with scant practical application -- recognized research that had tangibly changed lives.

"It shows that physics has a real relevance not just to understanding natural phenomena but to real products in everyday life," he said.

Albert Fert of France and Peter Gruenberg of Germany have been lauded for discovering the principle, called giant magnetoresistance (GMR), that led to this breakthrough.

Working at the atomic scale of nanotechnology, they independently discovered in 1988 that tiny changes in magnetic fields can yield a large electric output, something physicists at the time did not think possible.

These differences in turn cause changes in the current in the readout head which scans a hard disk to spot the ones and zeroes in which the data is stored.

"The real payoff is being able to use smaller and smaller magnetic domains. This translated directly into greater density of data," said Phil Schewe of the American Institute of Physics.

In a quarter-century, a computer of comparable computing power shrank from the size of a large room, to a fridge and then a laptop, he said.

"And now you can fit more than a trillion bits of data onto a tiny handheld device, such as an iPod or an Blackberry," Schewe said.

The information revolution has long obeyed "Moore's Law," which says advances in the miniaturization of electronic circuitry enable silicon chips to double in power roughly every 18 months.

In the mid-1990s, though, it looked as if that blistering pace of evolution would be braked by the limitations of hard-disk technology.

Hard disks could not store enough data relative to their size and the induction coil, used for extracting the data, was a bad choke point.

Fert and Gruenberg were able to prove that their concept of packing more information into less space worked. But they could not find a way to ramp up to industrial-scale production.

That breakthrough came from the laboratory of Stuart Parkin, an experimental physicist at IBM who applied something called "sputtering" techniques to create GMR structures, which are thin magnetic layers separated by non-magnetic metals.

IBM introduced the new technology in its disk-drive products in 1997 and was quickly followed by the rest of the industry.

Technology based on GMR "may be regarded as the first step in developing a completely new type of electronics, dubbed 'spintronics'," the Nobel jury said in announcing the award.

Unlike traditional electronics, spintronics uses not only an electrical charge but the spin of electrons in individual atoms.

This quantum mechanical effect, the jury predicts, will be the basis of a new kind of computer memory -- MRAM, or magnetic working memory -- that will be as fast as today's temporary memory but will be permanent at the same time.

"People keep saying there are limits to how small we can make things," said Schewe. "But clever physicists keep finding ways to cheat Moore's Law and cram more information in."

Related Links
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

ESA Takes Steps Toward Quantum Communications
Paris, France (ESA) Jun 13, 2007
A team of European scientists has proved within an ESA study that the weird quantum effect called 'entanglement' remains intact over a distance of 144 kilometres. The experiment allows ESA to take a step closer to exploiting entanglement as a way of communicating with satellites with total security. Quantum entanglement is one of the many non-intuitive features of quantum mechanics.

  • US cities' Wi-Fi dreams fading fast
  • Digital Dandelions: The Flowering Of Network Research
  • Researchers Aim To Make Internet Bandwidth A Global Currency
  • Controlling Bandwidth In The Clouds

  • Proton Rocket To Launch Three Glonass Satellites Oct 25
  • Boeing Ships Third Thuraya Communications Satellite To Sea Launch Home Port
  • SSTL Satellites Sign-Up For 2008 Launch
  • Ariane 5 rocket puts US, Australian satellites into orbit

  • MEPs seek limits on aircraft emissions by 2010
  • Aircraft And Automobiles Thrive In Hurricane-Force Winds At Lockheed Martin
  • New Delft Material Concept For Aircraft Wings Could Save Billions
  • Cathay Pacific chief hits out at anti-aviation critics

  • Australia To Join With United States In Defence Global Satellite Communications Capability
  • First Class Of Airmen Train For Wideband Global SATCOM
  • Australia To Join With United States In Defence Global Satellite Communications Capability
  • Boeing Supports New USAF GPS Ground Control System

  • Small is beautiful: Incredible shrinking memory drives new IT
  • Northrop Grumman Tests Multi-Mission Command And Telemetry System For Key Global Space Programs
  • New Transparent Plastic Strong As Steel
  • Indonesia studies building record suspension bridge

  • MBDA Director Takes Up Business Management Assignment On The MEADS Program
  • Analysis: Sulick new head spy for CIA
  • Raytheon Names Dr. Thomas Kennedy VP Tactical Airborne Systems
  • Northrop Grumman Appoints James Myers VP And GM Of Navigation Systems Division

  • Successful Image Taking By The High Definition Television
  • Boeing Launches WorldView-1 Earth-Imaging Satellite
  • New Faraway Sensors Warn Of Emerging Hurricane's Strength
  • Key Sensor For Northrop Grumman NPOESS Program Passes Critical Structural Test

  • New York taxi cabs sound the horn for second strike
  • EU deadlocked over funding for Galileo satnav project
  • EU plans for funding Galileo satnav system already hitting snags
  • Galileo GPS Network Hit By More Delays

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright Space.TV Corporation. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space.TV Corp on any Web page published or hosted by Space.TV Corp. Privacy Statement