French scientist Albert Fert and Peter Grunberg of Germany won the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of giant magneto-resistance that lets billions of computer users store and retrieve reams of data on computer hard drives.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its citation that the technology could also be considered one of the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology, which deals with extremely small devices.
"Applications of this phenomenon have revolutionized techniques for retrieving data from hard disks," the prize citation said. "The discovery also plays a major role in various magnetic sensors as well as for the development of a new generation of electronics."
Fert and Gruenberg each independently discovered in 1988, a physical effect called giant magneto-resistance where very weak changes in magnetism generate larger changes in electrical resistance. This effect is used to convert information stored magnetically on a hard disk to electrical signals that the computer reads. The two scientists' discovery has made it possible to miniaturize hard disks and has enabled computer users to quickly and easily store reams of data on computer hard drives.
"The development of computers showed in the last years that this was an important contribution," Gruenberg told Sweden's TV4 channel shortly after being learning that he was sharing the prize with Fert.
The Nobel prizes was founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who died childless in 1896, dedicating his vast fortune to create "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."
Laureates receive a gold medal, a personal diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor or $1.53 million, which can be split between up to three winners per prize.
The Noble prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, capital of Norway.