DOE-Supported Researcher Is Co-Winner of 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach today congratulated Dr. Peter Grünberg of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany and Albert Fert of Université Paris-Sud in France for co-winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly to Dr. Fert and Dr. Grünberg for discovering "a totally new physical effect," Giant Magnetoresistance or GMR, which revolutionized digital data storage and "can … be considered one of the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology."

In 1988, Dr. Grünberg and Dr. Fert each independently discovered GMR, a physical effect in which very weak changes in magnetism generate larger changes in electrical resistance. This is how information stored magnetically on a hard disk can be converted to electrical signals that the computer reads.

"This year's physics prize," the Academy's news release announced, "is awarded for the technology that is used to read data on hard disks. It is thanks to this technology that it has been possible to miniaturize hard disks so radically in recent years. Sensitive read-out heads are needed to be able to read data from the compact hard disks used in laptops and some music players, for instance."

"I offer my personal congratulations to Drs. Fert and Grünberg for winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics," said Under Secretary for Science Orbach. "Their entirely unexpected discovery of giant magnetoresistance has generated great scientific and technological discovery, not least of which is the enormous expansion of computer hard drive capabilities. That their observations had such widespread immediate impact upon both basic and applied sciences is a tribute to their attention to detail and to the quality of their work. The impact of their work is a major statement for the importance of unfettered basic research."

Dr. Grünberg's research as recognized in this year's Nobel Prize in Physics was based in part on his work at Argonne National Laboratory. In a 1986 Physical Review Letters article, Dr. Grünberg and his Argonne collaborators synthesized the metallic Fe/Cr/Fe trilayer and reported the antiferromagnetic coupling in this material. The discovery was enabled by the materials synthesis capabilities at Argonne. This foundation work was the first step in Dr. Grünberg's Nobel Prize winning research. In the second step, he found that the antiferromagnetic coupling could be switched to ferromagnetic by an applied magnetic field, accompanied by a significant increase of the resistance of the trilayer. This anomalously large increase, later called GMR, is the basis for Dr. Grünberg's Nobel Prize. The foundational role of Dr. Grünberg's work at Argonne to his discovery of giant magnetoresistance is recognized in his Nobel discovery paper as the first two citations.

The Department of Energy has sponsored 46 Nobel Laureates since DOE's inception in 1977 – and a total of 86 Nobel Laureates associated with DOE and its predecessor agencies since 1934.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences news release announcing the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics is at

Information about Nobel laureates supported by the Department of Energy is available here.