Proving physics isn’t just theoretical black-hole gazing, this year’s Nobel Prize went to a discovery that paved the way for radically shrinking the size of computers. Albert Fert and Peter Grunberg won for uncovering “giant magnetoresistance,” the phenomenon that big electrical resistance variances can be produced from weak magnetic ones. In practical terms? “Without it you would not be able to store more than one song on your iPod!” one scientist told the BBC.
GMR, which the pair discovered in the late 1980s, made it possible to develop sensitive reading tools to pull data off hard drives, the BBC explains, opening the door to laptops, mp3 players and other consumer tech applications. Scientists say GMR’s structures, which consist of very thin layers of differing magnetic materials, represent one of the first real nanotech applications.