Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It's a very small world

Albert Fert and Peter Gruenberg will share a $1.54 million prize courtesy of the Nobel Committee for Physics after they discovered giant magnetic resistance or GMR, allowing manufacturers to make really small and high density hard disk drives. Their research led to a hundredfold increase in information density in products like the iPod.

Fert and Gruenberg used quantum physics to explain GMR. It is one of the first practical and major uses of quantum physics in consumer products since it was discovered by Max Planck in 1900, and it’s given the field of nanotechnology a big boost.

Nanotechnology controls matter on the molecular level of 1 to 100 nanometers. A human hair has a diameter of 10,000 nanometers; but a water molecule is just under one nanometer wide.

How will the winners use their money? Well, they could buy 77 million gigabytes, enough to store the world’s complete history of printed words. But with the uncertainty of today’s currencies, maybe they should just buy atoms of gold, which at today’s rates would be two times ten to the 26th power. Now that sounds like a solid investment.

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