Stuart Parkin is awarded the King Faisal Prize for Science 2021

The director at the MPI of Microstructure Physics receives the prestigious prize for his discoveries and innovations in the field of spintronics.

Parkin’s inventions in the field of spintronics have revolutionised computer technology, making it possible to increase the data density on hard disks by a factor of 1,000. With his research on thin magnetic layers, he created the basis at IBM on which the company developed a new read-and-write-head for hard disks. This reads data reliably even from very densely packed magnetic storage materials. This laid the foundation for big data, i.e. the handling of large amounts of data. Not the least because of this, it has become so easy to share films and pictures via networks or computer clouds, making them available to groups of networked computers.

"Our goal is to develop components that work with spins or ions, for example, for technology beyond today's microelectronics," says Stuart Parkin. "But it can take ten to twenty years from the discovery of a new physical phenomenon to its technical implementation. I think it's important to have a long-term view when investing in science, to be able to do exciting research that seems unlikely or impossible."

In 2014, Stuart Parkin moved from IBM to the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle where he is researching spin currents and continues to work part time for IBM researching next generation memory technologies. Today, Parkin and his team are working on a component that could replace magnetic hard drives. Magnetic hard disks store 70 per cent of all data, but they work mechanically and therefore consume a lot of energy. Parkin is researching to build a so-called magnetic racetrack memory that works without any mechanics. This is based on the latest developments in spintronics, Parkin's field of research. Spintronics exploits the spin of electrons, which turns them into small magnetic units. Information can be stored in these magnetic units. In a racetrack memory, these small magnets are moved at several kilometres per second. This makes it possible to build data storage devices that store 100 times as much information as today's hard drives, are a million times faster and require 50 per cent less energy. Nick Donofrio, IBM Fellow Emeritus and EVP Innovation & Technology (retired), says, “As with Parkin’s other inventions, I have no doubt that Racetrack Memory too will be a great success and have a major impact on society”.
And that's exactly what was decisive for the King Faisal Foundation's award: “Professor Stuart Stephen Parkin is receiving the prize in recognition of his fundamental discoveries and innovations in the field of spintronics, which have led to a 1,000-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives. He developed practical spin-valve-based technologies that transformed human access to data and enabled the "Big Data Revolution". This in turn enabled machine learning and artificial intelligence to solve intractable problems that depend on rapid access to vast amounts of data, such as predictions of the impact of climate change. Parkin also discovered novel non-volatile magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM), which was launched last year."

"Stuart Parkin's award-winning contributions to spintronics have been instrumental in enabling us to process huge amounts of data today," adds Klaus Blaum, Vice President of the Max Planck Society. "And with his current research on completely new memory concepts, such as racetrack memory, he continues to decisively drive the development of new techniques for the computers of the future."

Joyce Poon, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, is delighted for her colleague and emphasizes: "Stuart Parkin's achievements in spintronics are renowned worldwide. This prestigious award shines a spotlight on the exciting developments at our institute, in the Max Planck Society, and in the city of Halle. Stuart's innovative spirit perfectly embodies our philosophy of conducting cutting-edge research that can have a profound impact on society.”

About the prize

The King Faisal International Prize for Science has been awarded once a year since 1984 by the King Faisal Foundation in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) to scientists for outstanding research results. Every four years, a scientist from the field of physics is honoured. The prize is endowed with $200,000 US dollars and presented with a gold medal.

Prof. Dr. Stuart Parkin

Stuart Parkin is Director of the Nanosystems from Spins, Ions and Electrons Department (NISE) at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics (MPI-MSP) and a Professor of Physics at the Martin Luther University, Halle, Germany, since 2015. Parkin has been a leader in the field of spintronics for the past 30 years. Prior to moving to Germany, Parkin was a scientist at IBM Research, where he was a scientist and Fellow at IBM Research in San Jose, California. Parkin has made seminal discoveries in novel spintronic concepts and materials that underlie the information age. His research interests include spintronic materials and devices for advanced sensor, memory, and logic applications, oxide thin-film heterostructures, topological metals, exotic superconductors, and cognitive devices. Parkin’s discoveries in spintronics enabled a more than 10,000-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives. For his work that thereby enabled the “big data” world of today, Parkin was awarded the Millennium Technology Award from the Technology Academy Finland in 2014. Parkin is a Fellow/ Member of: Royal Society (London), Royal Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, German National Academy of Science - Leopoldina, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Indian Academy of Sciences, and TWAS - academy of sciences for the developing world. Parkin has received numerous awards including the American Physical Society International Prize for New Materials (1994); Europhysics Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Solid State Physics (1997); 2009 IUPAP Magnetism Prize and Néel Medal; 2012 von Hippel Award - Materials Research Society; 2013 Swan Medal - Institute of Physics (London); Alexander von Humboldt Professorship − International Award for Research (2014); ERC Advanced Grant - SORBET (2015). 

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