I have sung the praises of Stuart Parkin previously on this blog to note that while Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg certainly deserved their 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the material phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance in 1988, it was indeed Parkin who pioneered the phenomenon into something that could be used in electronics. So the huge data densities we now have in our hard-disk drives is thanks in large part to Parkin’s work.
Stuart Parkin remains at IBM where he conducted his work in spintronics that led to the spin-valve read head and is currently the manager of the magnetoelectronics group at IBM Research - Almaden in San Jose, California.Back in 2007, Parkin was letting it be known that he was working on research that combined the use of nanowires and spintronics, which could revolutionize computer memory. Now a little over two years later he is discussing this work again and provided a brief update. Basically, Parkin and his team are placing nanowires vertically from a silicon wafers and these magnetic nanowires serve as the storage medium for the data. The data itself is encoded by the use of spintronics. Parkin describes it as, "Basically it's a disk drive on a chip. It would be entirely reliable, a million times faster and use a lot less energy."
In the last few years Parkin and his team have demonstrated that the device works in principal. However, Parkin cautions that it could take another five to eight years before it will be commercially available.
I remember about 15 years ago when I was telling non-techie friends about spintronics and the enormous data capacity that was possible with it I would get a shrug and a response like, “What would you need a 100GB for?” I explained new programs would change how we use computers, but my explanations mattered little because they soon found out for themselves. What will we do with memory that is a million times faster? I am sure we’ll figure something out.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.