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Stuart Parkin

Millennium Technology Prize

2014

Many of the technologies that we take for granted today would not exist without the phenomenal increase in storage capacity by computers. We can now stream music and movies from the Internet, all thanks to the information stored in the cloud. The technology behind this cloud computing age is called spintronics, which was developed by Professor Stuart Parkin and allows for a thousandfold increase in storage capacity.

Professor Parkin was born in the southern English town of Watford. After earning a PhD degree in physics at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK, he became a post­doctoral researcher at IBM, where he was made a fellow in 1999, the highest technical honour granted by IBM.

It was at IBM where Professor Parkin conducted much of his ground­breaking work on spintronics, which exploits the magnetic spin rather than the flow of electrons to store computer bits. There, Professor Parkin also defied critics by showing that it was possible to use a simple technique called sputtering to increase the density of magnetic disk drives. Sputtering can be thought of as a way of coating a material that is similar to throwing apples into a tub of water and letting the splashes paint the carpet beneath it, using high energy atoms instead of apples.

For driving the ‘big data’ revolution thanks to his application of spintronics to data storage disk drives, Professor Parkin was awarded the 2014 Millennium Technology Prize. Launched in 2004 and presented every two years by Technology Academy Finland, the prize is worth one million euros and is regarded as the Nobel Prize of the technology world.

A prolific inventor, Professor Parkin has authored over 400 papers and has over 90 issued patents. For technology aficionados hoping to predict the next frontier in nanotechnology, look no further: Professor Parkin is now working on ‘cognitive devices’, which are memory or logic devices inspired by how we compute in our own brains.

Professor Parkin also wears many hats: he is head of the IBM Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, and he is also a consulting professor at the Stanford University department of applied physics. More recently, he was appointed director of the Max Planck Institute and Humbolt Professor at the Martin Luther University of Halle­Wittenberg. His many honours include memberships with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. In 2007, Professor Parkin was named a distinguished visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.