France's Albert Fert and Germany's Peter Gruenberg discovered in 1988 that weak changes in magnetism generate larger changes in electrical resistance. The discovery produced applications that "have revolutionized techniques for retrieving data from hard disks [on computers]," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a prize citation.
"The discovery also plays a major role in various magnetic sensors as well as for the development of a new generation of electronics," the statement said.
The two scientists will share a $1.5 million prize to be presented on the December 10 anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who established the award in his will.
Two U.S. scientists, Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies, and the U.K.'s Sir Martin J. Evans, were awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Medicine at a ceremony on Monday, for groundbreaking discoveries in stem cell research.
Each year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.
Each prize consists of a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash award.
The physics prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. A total of 180 awards have been given to date.
Russian scientists Alexei Abrikosov and Vitaly Ginzburg split the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics with Sir Anthony James Leggett "for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids."