Spintronics pioneer awarded Finland’s Millennium Prize

Professor Stuart Parkin, a solid-state physicist and IBM Fellow whose work has helped fuel the ‘big data’ revolution, has been awarded the Millennium Technology Prize 2014.

The prize, awarded biennially by Technology Academy Finland, acknowledges creators of innovations that have greatly enhanced humanity’s quality of life, and acts also as a platform from which others are inspired to carry out advanced research.

British born Prof Parkin was awarded the €1m prize for his work in spintronics, an area in which the properties of atomically engineered materials are influenced by the currents of spin polarised electrons.

By exploiting these properties, Parkin helped to develop the spin-valve read head (or GMR head), which was commercialised by IBM in 1997 and has since led to a thousand-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives and the exceptional growth of data acquisition and storage capacities.

‘For me the prize is particularly meaningful because it recognises innovation, and my own personal belief is that carrying out research at the intersection of science and technology is the most rewarding of all endeavours,’ said Parkin. ‘So to attempt to expand the frontiers of human knowledge – and to do this with an awareness of its potential impact in helping to solve some of the world’s most important challenges when developing technologies that can really make a difference to our lives and to society – is extremely exciting and thrilling. At IBM I’ve…had exactly this opportunity: to carry out exploratory fundamental research that has led, and that I hope will lead in the future, to more exciting and impactful technologies.

Parkin now plans to set up an international centre for nanosystems to explore cognitive devices that could enable extremely energy efficient computing.