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Nobel laureate conducted research at Argonne


Peter Grünberg, who shares the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics, conducted part of his groundbreaking research on magnetoresistive materials at Argonne in 1984 and 1985. Grünberg visited Argonne while a research scientist at the Institute of Solid State Research at Research Centre Jülich, Germany.

Grünberg, and Albert Fert’s group at the University of Paris-Sud, Orsay, France, independently discovered a totally new physical effect in 1988: giant magnetoresistance, or GMR. The effect dramatically changes the electrical resistance of thin magnetic layers in the presence of external magnetic fields. The effect occurs in metals and is based on the relative orientation of the magnetization of two magnetic layers that sandwich a nonferromagnetic spacer layer.

Starting in the mid-nineties, within ten years of the basic research discovery, GMR read heads started being manufactured as part the hard disk drives of all computers to read the information stored as nanoscale magnetic bits on the revolving disk.
Sam Bader, chief scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, invited Grünberg to Argonne as part of an exchange program with Research Centre Jülich. Bader had spent six months at the German laboratory and became friends with the future Nobel laureate.

Originally planned as a year-long visit, Grünberg liked Argonne so much he extended his stay by six months.

“He had a clear plan in mind,” said Bader. “He mapped it out on my blackboard and I kept it there for years because I knew it would be significant some day. Eventually I changed offices and the board was washed clean.”

Layered iron-chromium thin-film samples created by Argonne’s C. H. “Harvey” Sowers, now retired, were critical to Grünberg’s research. Those samples showed the first evidence of antiferromagnetic interlayer coupling, which was the discovery that led to the existence of the GMR effect. Sowers was a co-author of a Physical Review Letters paper in 1986 that detailed the breakthrough.

Bader is happy for his friend and hopes he enjoys his international recognition.

“He is a humble and shy guy,” Bader said, “just as interested in his kid’s fishing trips as a father should be.”

Argonne National Laboratory, a renowned R&D center, brings the world’s brightest scientists and engineers together to find exciting and creative new solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America ’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.


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