Christopher Murray, 32
Fabricating devices on the nanometer scale (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter) could mean fast, cheap and powerful computers and microelectronics able to store vast amounts of data. But building anything on that scale is no small task. A new and promising approach is to take advantage of chemistry’s remarkable talent for assembling materials with molecular precision. Chris Murray has helped pioneer "chemical assembly" and, in starting up a research effort at IBM, is hoping to use it to revolutionize magnetic data storage.
At IBM, Murray is cooking up solutions for fabricating arrays of magnetic nanoparticles. He has succeeded in assembling precisely structured thin films of magnetic materials that can be read by the sensors of a conventional hard drive. The ultra-high-density storage medium will help test just how small features in conventional magnetic technology can become and still function.
Whether the work will pay off in a widely used new data storage medium that can be assembled cheaply and precisely remains "uncertain," he says. But it seems clear that, given Murray’s skills as a materials chemist and his instincts for surrounding himself with top engineering talent, he has a good shot at making it happen--and if he does, the payoff for the computers of tomorrow will be very large indeed.