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From Lab to iPod: A Story of Discovery and Commercialization in the Post–Cold War Era

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 50, Number 1, January 2009
pp. 58-81 | 10.1353/tech.0.0222



The 1988 discovery, made simultaneously in two European laboratories, of giant magnetoresistance (GMR) became the basis for the Nobel prize in physics two decades later. Companies like IBM rapidly commercialized the discovery, which paved the way for major advances in data storage commonly seen in computers and portable music players. GMR also helped catalyze a new field of research known as “spintronics” and provided a rationale for a major global investment in nanotechnology. This article examines the process through which a basic physics discovery was made and then commercialized. In this narrative, military agencies and commercial firms acting as “institutional entrepreneurs” fostered the growth of spintronics (and nanotechnology) in the post-Cold War environment. Finally, it concludes by exploring the validity of the linear model for research and the shifting boundaries between contemporary science and technology.