Dream Factory - Science Museum Swindon - January 2007 - 72
Originally uploaded by Gaetan Lee
I read today that France's Albert Fert and Germany's Peter Gruenberg won the 2007 Nobel Prize for physics on Tuesday for a breakthrough in nanotechnology that lets huge amounts of data be squeezed into ever-smaller spaces. Their independent discovery, around 1988, of a physical effect called giant magnetoresistance has enabled the design of such things as the iPod. Prof Ben Murdin, University of Surrey, said: "GMR is the science behind an ubiquitous technological device; without it you would not be able to store more than one song on your iPod.
What is it?
The "giant magnetoresistive" (GMR) effect was discovered in the late 1980s by two European scientists working independently: Peter Gruenberg of the KFA research institute in Julich, Germany, and Albert Fert of the University of Paris-Sud . They saw very large resistance changes -- 6 percent and 50 percent, respectively -- in materials comprised of alternating very thin layers of various metallic elements. This discovery took the scientific community by surprise; physicists did not widely believe that such an effect was physically possible. These experiments were performed at low temperatures and in the presence of very high magnetic fields and used laboriously grown materials that cannot be mass-produced, but the magnitude of this discovery sent scientists around the world on a mission to see how they might be able to harness the power of the Giant Magnetoresistive effect.
IBM Research Arrives on the Scene
Stuart Parkin and two groups of colleagues at IBM's Almaden Research Center, San Jose, Calif, quickly recognized its potential, both as an important new scientific discovery in magnetic materials and one that might be used in sensors even more sensitive than MR heads.
Parkin first wanted to reproduce the Europeans' results. But he did not want to wait to use the expensive machine that could make multilayers in the same slow-and-perfect way that Gruenberg and Fert had. So Parkin and his colleague, Kevin P. Roche, tried a faster and less-precise process common in disk-drive manufacturing: sputtering. To their astonishment and delight, it worked! Parkin’s team saw GMR in the first multilayers they made. This demonstration meant that they could make enough variations of the multilayers to help discover how GMR worked, and it gave Almaden's Bruce Gurney and co-workers hope that a room-temperature, low-field version could work as a super-sensitive sensor for disk drives.
.......Searching for a useful disk-drive sensor design that would operate at low magnetic fields, Bruce Gurney and colleagues began focusing on the simplest possible arrangement: two magnetic layers separated by a spacer layer chosen to ensure that the coupling between magnetic layers was weak, unlike previously made structures. They also "pinned" in one direction the magnetic orientation of one layer by adding a fourth layer: a strong antiferromagnet. When a weak magnetic field, such as that from a bit on a hard disk, passes beneath such a structure, the magnetic orientation of the unpinned magnetic layer rotates relative to that of the pinned layer, generating a significant change in electrical resistance due to the GMR effect. This structure was named the spin valve.
.....We've just explained our astounding new technological achievement and announced  our new 16.8 Gigabyte product. Now we'd like to tell you how we envision its effect on your future. Computers are no longer simply relegated to the desktop. They are in our cars, our TVs, VCRs, Stereos and toasters. Increasingly, we are doing business and accomplishing everyday tasks over vast computer networks -- including, but not limited to, the internet. Our world is changing from the physical to the digital. This transformation is no small task and the transition from the present world to the digital one is highly dependent on smart, inexpensive and abundant digital storage.
There are simulations of how GMR works here . It took IBM 10 years to take a Nobel-potential scientific discovery, do the technology research and design and launch a product. Most scientific discoveries take over 20 years to make it to market, in Great Britain they might never make it!
This slide, from a presentation about the Design Council's Humanising Technology Programme (now called Designing Demand )that I was part of, shows the challenge facing business in Britain to bridge the gap between science, technology and sustainable business success.
Although we have managed more than that 2%, driven by "The City" todays announcement by the chancellor flagged a slowdown. So how can design help connect sciencific intellectual property with the marketplace to benefit everyone involved?
There are two chasms that act as barriers to exploitation of science; the first is the transition from a discovery into a technology- GMR opened up a way to build much smaller magnetic heads, says Claude Chappert of the University of Paris-South. The discovery revolutionized consumer electronics.
"I think this triggered the common use of MP3 players," he notes.
The first people to realise the potential were Compaq's Systems Research Center and the Palo Alto Advanced Development group--essentially a bunch of engineers from Compaq's laptop division who realized that hard drives could replace flash memory in MP3 players and enable them to hold far more music. More details here.
The transition from technology into a useable product/service is the next chasm to be bridged... so creating the iPod is the result of many iterative experiments
Companies that are making the journey from left to right include
Ceres Power has used design to grow from a three-person research operation to a £144million company that’s set to launch a revolutionary domestic boiler powered by its fuel cell technology.
Newlands Scientific: A team of scientists knew their fledgling technology had potential, but needed a dedicated innovations partner to develop commercially viable products and create a sustainable brand.
Seven years on, Newlands Scientific has become FeONIC plc, a company with a strong, clearly defined brand that adds weight and coherence to its range of groundbreaking products.
Neither the successful branding of this new technology, nor the products developed to commercialise it happened overnight. Indeed, creating a clearly defined brand did not seem like a priority until quite a way into the commercialisation process, when suddenly there seemed to be a profusion of different names, brands, licensees and distributors all vying for attention. Read on
Peratech: SPACE robots are to use a remarkable material to give them touch sensitivity, enabling them to detect, measure and respond to a range of pressures from the "lightest touch to the heaviest hammer blow".
The contract for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) will help to boost the reputation of Peratech, a United Kingdom company that developed the unique technology. The agreement with Peratech means that Nasa will use award-winning quantum tunnelling composite (QTC) technology to give its robots touch sensitivity.
This is just one of 50 licensing deals that Peratech has arranged with other companies to use QTC technology since its launch three years ago.
The aspects that leap out as I read these stories are:
The way organisations successfully adapt and grow are culturally driven and the discipline of design gives them a greater chance of becoming successful earlier. The weaving of design into the culture is a challenging one but the positive results heavily outweigh the negatives, and would have to be faced upto eventually anyway. The social aspect of design is important as well as the constant search for the right solution that comes from having the right prototype in the right hands at the right moment. As I said above there are two transitions (chasms or barriers) One is the conversion of a scientific discovery into a technology; building the technology into something that will deliver innovative benefits to the person experincing it. That will do for now!
[picture from Apple.com]