The 2007 Nobel prize for physics has been awarded to the nanotech boffins behind our ever shrinking hard disks, Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg.
The pair were honoured for the "discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance", a breakthrough which allowed hard disks to be super-downsized. Both men made the breakthrough, independently, in 1988.
Giant Magnetoresistence (GMR) was a totally new physical effect, whereby very small changes in magnetism produced major differences in the electrical resistance of a system. In a world which stores data magnetically, and reads it off as electrical signals, the application of the science is obvious.
After the basic science is done, the theory has to be turned into a working product, and by 1997, the first GMR read-out heads were launched. The technology is still in use today, and according to the Nobel foundation can be considered one of the first real world applications of nanotechnology. ®