More memory on the hard disk: hit of the research world

Stuart Parkin honoured as Clarivate Citation Laureate

The decisive factor for being named a Citation Laureate is above all how often a research achievement has been cited in the scientific world. Even though the research itself is not the reason for this award, Stuart Parkin shows that his work could revolutionise commercially available hard disk storage.

Stuart Parkin, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Halle, is honored as Citation Laureate for his research in the field of spintronics and in particular for the development of Racetrack Memories to increase data storage density. He is the only award winner from Germany. The main criterion for this award is that the publications were cited more than 2,000 times in high-ranking journals. This is the case for only about 0.01 percent of all publications. To identify suitable Citation Laureates, the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), which is part of the Clarivate Group, conducts a comprehensive analysis of publication and citation data every year. Whoever is chosen as a Citation Laureate also has a chance of winning the Nobel Prize, at least statistically: since the introduction of the prize in 2002, a total of 71 Citation Laureates have also received a Nobel Prize.

The memory of the spins

It is Parkin's inventions in the field of spintronics that revolutionized computer technology. They make it possible to increase the storage density of conventional hard disks by a factor of 1000. "It took eight years to prove the basic concept. And now, with a paper we published in Science, describing this concept, got more than 5,000 citations. It is one of my most highly cited papers," says Parkin, describing the long road to success. Spintronics is fundamentally different from the way data has been stored on hard drives until now.

While conventional hard drives store information in the form of small charge packages in electronic memory cells, the so-called magnetic Racetrack Memory uses the basic principle of electron spin. The spin of electrons is a quantum mechanical property. The spin can be directed upwards or downwards. It helps to imagine the picture of a cloud of charge spinning around its own axis. This creates a magnetic dipole: one pole points upwards, the other downwards. In the case of a single electron, the spin works similarly and it also carrys a small magnetic unit. 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. The small magnets are moved at speeds of several kilometres per second, which explains the naming of the method.

Stuart Parkin has already won several awards for his pioneering work. "Research like Stuart Parkin's is transformative in the best sense of the word: it not only delivers high-quality, breakthrough discoveries, but has the potential to shape entire generations," says Claudia Becker, the rector of Martin Luther University, where Parkin teaches as a professor of physics. The Minister for Science, Energy, Climate Protection and the Environment of the State of Saxony-Anhalt, Armin Willingmann, also expresses his great appreciation: "Stuart Parkin is following in the tradition of many bright minds who have changed the world with their innovative ideas from Saxony-Anhalt."

The other Citation Laureates

This year’s Citation Laureates have made significant contributions across a diverse range of fields, including cancer treatment, human microbiomes, synthetic gene circuits, spintronics, designer molecular structures, sleep/wake cycles, wealth inequality and urban economics. Sixteen of the honorees are based at leading academic institutions in the United States, two each are based in Japan, the United Kingdom and France, and one is based in Germany. These individuals represent an elite group whose research publications are highly cited and who have already exerted a profound and often transformative impact on their fields of research.

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