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Spintronics pioneer wins €1m tech prize

Stuart Parkin, a British scientist whose work has led to a thousand-fold increase in magnetic disk drive storage capacity, has won the 2014 Millennium Technology Prize.

An IBM Fellow and director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, Parkin received the €1million award for his "pioneering contribution to the science and application of spintronic materials and his work leading to a prodigious growth in the capacity to store digital information," the committee said.

His major achievement was the application of a phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance (GMR) to create extremely sensitive devices that can detect tiny magnetic fields.

This in turn enabled a huge expansion of data acquisition and storage capacities, underpinning the evolution of large data centres and cloud services, social networks, music and film distribution online.

"I am very humbled and proud to have been awarded the prize, which is a tremendous validation by the scientific community of my work and its impact on the world as a whole," Parkin said.

The scientist joins an illustrious list of previous winners, including the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Linux creator Linus Torvalds, and Michael Grätzel, who pioneered dye-sensitised solar cells.

First awarded in 2004 and presented every two years, the Millennium Technology Prize aims to recognise technological innovation. It is awarded by Technology Academy Finland and backed by the Finnish state. The 2014 award ceremony will take place in Helsinki on 7 May.

Laura Hopperton

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