Stuart Parkin is awarded the King Faisal Prize for Science 2021
Credit: Marco Warmuth, TGZ Halle GmbH
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 1000. With his research on thin magnetic layers, he created the basis at IBM on which the company developed a new read 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 least because of this, films and pictures can now be easily exchanged via social networks or computer clouds, making them available to groups of networked computers. These spin-valve recording read heads were only the tip of the spintronics iceberg. As a second major invention, more than 20 years ago at IBM, Parkin demonstrated a high performance, non-volatile magnetic random-access memory (MRAM), that became a mainstream foundry technology just last year. Recently, Parkin pushed the memory-storage capacity boundary further with the invention of the magnetic Racetrack Memory, whose fundamental principle is entirely different from the charge-based memories of today. Racetrack Memory stores information in the presence or absence of magnetic domain walls that are shifted backwards and forwards along nanoscopic magnetic racetracks, using spin currents. Over the past decade, Parkin demonstrated the fundamental concepts underlying his invention. A series of basic discoveries and key inventions in chiral spintronic materials and devices have proven that Racetrack Memory has great promise to displace today’s storage devices, such as magnetic hard disk drive and solid-state FLASH memory.
In 2014, Stuart Parkin came from IBM Almaden to the Max Planck Institute in Halle to be able to devote himself even more intensively to researching spin currents. 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.
Parkin is especially proud of this third invention because, as he says, “Racetrack Memory is an amazingly versatile technology: it has the potential to replace both the fastest, as well as the densest of the solid-state memories known today. On the other its unique attributes allow it to also provide a cryogenic solid-state memory that is needed for the most advanced Quantum Computing technologies. 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.” Parkin invented and developed the concept of Racetrack Memory and brought everything together to bring his technology close to maturity. Nick Donofrio, emeritus Executive Vice President, IBM Corporation, said “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”. Joyce Poon, Managing Director, MPI-MSP says “Stuart Parkin’s achievements in spintronics are renowned. This prestigious recognition shines a light on the exciting developments at our Institute, the Max Planck Society and the city of Halle. Stuart’s innovative spirit embodies the philosophy of our Institute to carry out forefront research that can profoundly impact 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.”
About the prize
Parkin will receive the King Faisal Prize in Science 2021 later this year in Riyadh from the Saudi Arabian king. It is named after the Saudi Arabian king, Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz, who was the son of the state’s founder. The King Faisal International Prize for Science has been awarded once a year since 1978 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 dollars and a gold medal.
Prof. Dr. Stuart Parkin
Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, Halle (Saale), Germany
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).
Dr. Andreas Berger