Stuart Parkin to Receive American Physical Society’s Highest Award for Contributions to Spintronics and Data Storage

Dec. 13, 2023 —The American Physical Society (APS) has awarded Stuart Parkin of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics the 2024 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research. Parkin will be recognized “for major discoveries in spintronics leading to a revolution in data storage and memory” at a ceremony during the APS Annual Leadership Meeting in January 2024.

“Stuart Parkin is a luminary whose incisive experiments and major discoveries in spintronics led to a revolution in data storage and memory,” said APS President-Elect Young-Kee Kim, who chaired the medal’s selection committee. “His indomitable spirit of inquiry has forever altered our perception of the world around us.”

The APS Medal honors physicists who have advanced human knowledge and understanding of the physical universe at the highest level. It is the highest honor awarded by APS and recognizes the achievements of researchers from across all areas of physics.

“I’m very pleased that we will be presenting Stuart with the APS Medal next month,” said APS CEO Jonathan Bagger. “His work has been crucial to the development of many of the digital devices we use today.”

While the field of traditional electronics relies on electrons’ electrical charges to operate devices, spintronics, or spin electronics, also uses an electron’s spin and magnetic moment — properties that represent one form of the particle’s angular momentum as well as its magnetic strength and direction. Using electrons’ spins to store information could let researchers encode data in a greater number of dimensions and at higher speeds than is possible with conventional electronics.

Parkin’s key contributions to the field of spintronics include showing how to achieve very high levels of an effect known as tunneling magnetoresistance in a material at room temperature, enabling a dramatic increase in digital data storage capabilities — an insight that is now widely used in commercial magnetic disk drives and random access memory, or RAM. Parkin also proposed a design for a memory device dubbed racetrack memory that reads and encodes digital information in the boundaries between magnetized regions, or domains, in an array of nanowires and could lead to devices with even higher digital data storage density.

“To win the APS Medal is a great honor because APS is the most impactful society representing physicists around the world,” said Parkin. “To be chosen as the recipient of their highest honor is something that I would never have dreamt of but of which I am very proud.”

Parkin received his bachelor’s degree and his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1977 and 1980, respectively. He is now the director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics and an Alexander von Humboldt Professor at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.

The medal includes a $50,000 prize, a certificate citing the recipient’s contribution, and an invited talk at an APS March or April Meeting. The prize is funded by a generous endowment from entrepreneur Jay Jones.

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The American Physical Society is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents more than 50,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world.