Anyone who grew up listening to music on LPs and cassettes, or even CDs, cannot look at an iPod and help but be amazed that such a tiny device could have so much storage capacity. But as remarkable as iPods are, the reality is that there is growing demand for even smaller data storage technologies. Until recently, the biggest roadblock to the continued miniaturization of hard drives was cost. But Dr. Josh Pomeroy, a 33-year-old physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), appears to have provided a path around that roadblock. He has created an inexpensive new way to read microchips, which could satisfy the unrelenting demand of the billion-dollar U.S. data storage industry for larger capacity, cheaper hard drives and smaller electronic storage devices.
Dr. Pomeroy’s unique talent became apparent during his undergraduate studies at Boston University, where his research contributed to seven papers in nanophotonics and near-field microscopy, an impressive number for an undergraduate with a demanding course load. After receiving his Ph.D. from Cornell University, where he contributed to eleven more papers, Dr. Pomeroy completed a year of postdoctoral work at Los Alamos National Laboratory before joining the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2003. It was with this strong research background that Dr. Pomeroy set out to address the problem of developing new magnetic materials.
Dr. Pomeroy’s research focuses on the use of highly charged ion beams to reduce the size of magnetic sensors used to read data on disk drives. This program is still in its infancy. However, critical advances are occurring at an ever increasing pace. The tiny magnetic sensors in modern disk drives are a sandwich of two magnet layers separated by a buffer. Such a sensor works by measuring the resistance between the two magnetic layers. As disk devices become smaller and more densely packed, the sensors must also shrink, but small sensors no longer have the resistance needed to provide high signals and high speed. Dr. Pomeroy’s research has created innovative new techniques using highly charged ions to control and tune the resistance. This advance is expected to eliminate one of the major barriers to further development of disk drive technology. He has already secured a provisional patent on this new nanotechnology, which could help give the U.S. data storage industry a competitive edge in the global marketplace.
Dr. Josh Pomeroy is not only a star in the laboratory; he has distinguished himself in the community. Since arriving at NIST, he has supervised and mentored four high school students, two Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship students and two postdoctoral candidates. Three of the high school students have continued on to pursue technical studies at a university, and the fourth is currently working on her senior project. One of the undergraduate fellows graduated and moved on to pursue an advanced degree in engineering. Pomeroy even found time to judge the Montgomery County Science Fair for the past three years.
We don’t know what will be the next “iPod”, an invention that currently captures the public’s imagination and changes perceptions about what is technologically possible. One thing that is clear is that Dr. Josh Pomeroy is one of the nation’s top young scientists and he will be doing his best to push the boundaries of possibility.