Nobel Prize Goes to "European Inventor of the Year"

EPO President Alain Pompidou and Günther Verheugen, Vice President of the European Commission, congratulate Peter Grünberg on winning the European Inventor of the Year prize on 3 May 2006.

The Nobel Committee has awarded this year's Nobel Prize in physics to Peter Grünberg from Research Centre Jülich, Germany and his colleague Albert Fert from the University of Paris, France. In 2006, the German researcher was awarded the "European Inventor of the Year" prize.

Grünberg and Fert are being honoured for their discovery of giant magnetoresistance (GMR) in the eighties. The GMR effect led to the breakthrough in gigabyte hard drives used in every computer produced today. Together with Albert Fert, Grünberg founded the future-oriented technology of spintronics.

The solid-state physicists have been honoured for their work on giant magnetoresistance, which paved the way for the breakthrough in producing gigabyte hard drives in the nineties. Their research laid the foundations for the field of spintronics, which exploits the quantum mechanical spin of electrons for micro- and nanoelectronics. Thanks to this basic research it became possible to develop high-performance read and write heads for hard drives.

Grünberg's giant magnetoresistance (GMR) effect is now found in almost every hard drive produced today. The GMR effect enables data to be read out very precisely. These data are stored tightly packed in small areas of different magnetization. A sensor that makes use of the GMR effect registers these tiny differences as a large measurable change and is therefore able to function in a highly sensitive manner.

This fact was recognised very rapidly by industry. The first GMR read head for computer hard drives came onto the market in 1997. Exploitation of the GMR effect has led to eight-figure earnings for Research Centre Jülich as the holder of the patent. The GMR effect has long been integrated around the world into improved read heads for hard drives, video tapes and also in MP3 players.

In 2006, the EPO and European Commission (EC) awarded Peter Grünberg the "European Inventor of the Year" prize in the category Universities and Research Institutes.