HELSINKI -- Anyone who uses large data centers, cloud services, social networks or gets music and film online can thank British-American physicist Stuart Parkin.
Parkin won the $1.3 million Millennium Technology Prize on Wednesday for discoveries leading to a thousand-fold increase in digital data storage on magnetic disks -- findings that enabled all of the above services.
The Finnish prize foundation cited the 58-year-old consulting professor at Stanford for his "pioneering contribution to the science and application of spintronic materials" which it said have made "our contemporary online world largely possible."
Spintronics relies on the magnetic spin of electrons rather than their charge to store bits.
"(It) changed the world by allowing storage of all knowledge created since the beginning of time," Parkin told The Associated Press, adding he was "honored and surprised" to win the prize.
The physicist said future spintronic discoveries will further increase the speed and size of memory storage, replacing huge data centers with smaller ones that have higher storage capacities within five to 10 years.
"It will be a million times faster than disk drives and a hundred times cheaper than conventional memories," Parkin said in a telephone interview from Halle, Germany, where he was just appointed director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics.
The Millennium Technology Prize, which began in 2004, is awarded every two years by the Technology Academy Finland, an independent foundation, for "technological innovations that significantly improve the quality of people's lives."
Previous winners include Britain's Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the World Wide Web, Japanese Shuji Nakamura for inventions in laser technology and LED lighting and ethical stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka, also from Japan.