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Data storage pioneer bags prestigious €1m Millennium Technology Prize

An English-American physicist has been handed the Millennium Technology Prize for various discoveries that have underpinned the evolution of data centres, cloud services, social networks, and music and film distribution online.

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Stuart Parkin, a 58-year-old professor at Stanford University, won the €1 million [£826,657] Millennium Technology Prize for discoveries that contributed to a thousand-fold increase in digital data storage on magnetic discs.

“Professor Stuart S.P. Parkin is awarded the Millennium Technology Prize for his pioneering contribution to the science and application of spintronic materials, his work leading to a prodigious growth in the capacity to store digital information. Parkin’s achievements have greatly facilitated the occurrence of the ‘big data’ revolution and significantly transformed human access to knowledge,” stated the selection committee.

The discoveries made by Parkin allow us to stream movies, use social media and search information online using magnetic disk drives in the cloud. It is cost efficient thanks to Parkin’s efforts in the field of spintronics and he estimates that a month’s supply of disk drives could store all the information known since the beginning of mankind.

Parkin leads the way in the field of spintronics nanotechnology that uses the magnetic spin of electrons rather than their charge in order to store bits. In addition to this, Parkin also made a significant advancement with the magneto-resistive random access memory [MRAM] that he proposed back in 1995, which is based on magnetic tunnel junction [MTJ] memory cells.

All of Parkin’s discoveries rely on magneto-resistive thin-film structures and the development of the giant magnetoresistance [GMR] spin-valve read head and it was the discovery of GMR in 1988 that allowed Parkin to accelerate his theory into data storage technology.

“The previous winners have proven to be fantastic scientists whose research has had tremendous impact. I am very humbled and proud to have been awarded the prize, which is s a tremendous validation by the scientific community of my work and its impact on the world as a whole,” Parkin added.

Related: $1m award for inventor of cheap solar cells

Past winners of the award have included the man credited with creating the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, as well as ethical stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka.