Stuart Parkin

Millennium Technology Prize


Many of the technologies that we take for granted today would not exist without the phenomenal storage capacity of today’s computers. We can now stream music and movies from the Internet, all thanks to data that is stored in the cloud. One of the most important technologies that allows for the massive storage needs of the cloud computing age of today is spintronics.   Professor Stuart Parkin is a pioneer of the field of spintronics and invented the technology which made possible a thousand-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives in which most data is stored.

Professor Parkin was born in the town of Watford in England. After earning a Ph.D. degree in physics at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK, he became a postdoctoral researcher, first in Paris and then at IB, where he was made an IBM Fellow in 1999, the highest technical honor granted by IBM. 

It was at IBM where Professor Parkin conducted much of his groundbreaking work in spintronics, which exploits the electron’s “spin” rather than its charge to allow for novel properties. There, Professor Parkin showed it was possible to build novel artificial spintronic materials, one atomic layer by one atomic layer, using a deposition technique called sputtering that made possible mass-manufactured spintronic devices, and thereby defied sceptics who thought that this was not possible.  Sputtering uses energetic atoms created in a plasma to strike a target to release atoms: by analogy one can think of this as being similar to throwing apples into a tub of water and letting the splashes paint a nearby surface using energetic 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 520 papers and has over 113 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.  He is exploring many different possible approaches including magnetically textured films that could for example, include nanoscopic magnetic objects such as “antiskyrmion”, which he and his group recently discovered, and ionic liquid gate induced metal to insulator transitions in thin layers of oxide materials.  Such cognitive concepts that involve in the one case “spins” and in the other case “ions” could take us beyond the limitations of todays “charge-based” technologies and thereby take today’s information storage and technologies in a whole new direction.

Professor Parkin wears many hats: he is a Director of the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics and an Alexander von Humboldt Professor at the Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg. His many honours include Memberships of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Leopoldina, Germany’s National Academy of Sciences which is based in Halle. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society (London). In 2007, Professor Parkin was named a distinguished visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.