News Release

Renowned Physicist and Innovator Eric Fullerton Wins 2012 AIP Industrial Application of Physics Prize

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Eric Fullerton,
Professor in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and NanoEngineering, UC San Diego

San Diego, CA, February 27, 2012 -- The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has awarded the 2012 AIP Prize for Industrial Applications of Physics to Professor Eric Fullerton for his pioneering work in advancing magnetic recording media. Fullerton is a professor in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and NanoEngineering at the University of California, San Diego, where he earned a doctorate in physics in 1991.  

Fullerton joined the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering faculty in 2007 after years working in industry at both IBM and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

The AIP Prize for Industrial Applications of Physics recognizes scientists who have developed proven industrial technologies. Fullerton's work on exchange-coupled magnetic recording media helped enable the last 10 years' worth of growth in the storage densities in disk drives. Magnetic storage plays a key role in audio, video, and computer technology. The exponential growth of digital information contributes to ongoing demand for greater hard drive capacity.

Fullerton is also Director of the Center of Magnetic Recording Research at UC San Diego.

Expanding the capacity of disk drives

In the late 1990s, a limit to drive densities was predicted based on thermal instabilities in the magnetic recording media. Fullerton and the magnetic media team at IBM were able to push back the limit by introducing a thin layer of the element ruthenium sandwiched between magnetic layers. Technically known as antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) recording media, the innovation was dubbed "pixie dust," due to its seemingly magical ability to improve performance. AFC media's first consumer application was in IBM's Travelstar hard drive products in 2001.

Later at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (GST), Fullerton continued his work on AFC technology, developing laminated AFC media, in which an additional magnetic layer enabled further gains in storage densities. He also worked on ferromagnetically coupled composite structures that enhanced the performance of currently used perpendicular recording media.

Since 1956, when IBM built the first magnetic hard disk drive, the number of bits per unit area on a disk surface has increased almost 250 million-fold.

"I am proud of my work at IBM and Hitachi GST and was very gratified and honored to hear of the selection," said Fullerton. "I also was appreciative of the opportunity that I had at IBM and Hitachi GST to work in a great team, including my management team of Hal Rosen, Jim Lyerla, and Currie Munce. They created a fertile environment for creating new ideas and following them through to products."

Fullerton received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., in 1984. While completing his doctorate at UC San Diego, he worked on the growth and characterization of metallic superlattices. Fullerton joined the magnetic films group in the Materials Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill., as a postdoctoral fellow and in 1993 became a staff scientist specializing in the physics of coupled magnetic films.

In 1997, he joined the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., where he worked until 2003 as a research staff member. He next moved to Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, also in San Jose, as a research staff member and manager of the Fundamentals of Nanostructured Materials Group.

Fullerton has co-authored more than 240 papers in refereed journals and holds 50 U.S. patents, including a patent selected as one of the "Five Patents to Watch" in 2001 by MIT's Technology Review magazine. He was awarded the Argonne Exceptional Performance Award in 1996, Fellowship in the American Physical Society in 1998, the IBM Outstanding Technical Achievement Award in 2002, the IBM Fourth Plateau Invention Achievement Award in 2003, the Hitachi GST Gold Patent Award in 2004 and 2005, Docteur Honoris Causa from Université Henri Poincaré, Nancy, France in 2011, and Fellowship in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2012.

The award was presented on Feb. 27 at the American Physical Society's 2012 March Meeting in Boston, Mass.

About the Prize
The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is an organization of 10 physical science societies, representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators. Established in 1977, the Prize for Industrial Applications of Physics recognizes outstanding contributions by an individual or individuals to the industrial applications of physics. The objectives are to publicize the value of physics research in industry, to encourage physics research in industry, to enhance students' awareness of the role of physics in industrial research.

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering