Photo of Jerome J. Cuomo

Jerome J. Cuomo

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Computer Science

For the discovery and development of a new class of materials-the amorphous magnetic materials-that are the basis of erasable, read-write, optical storage technology, now the foundation of the worldwide magnetic-optic disk industry.

When Jerome Cuomo and two other IBM scientists discovered a combination of elements that possessed unusual magnetic and optical properties, the trio knew their discovery was huge. The elements, after all, were perfect for optical data storage.

It would take several years for the team to realize just how important their discovery was.

Cuomo, a senior manager at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, and the others, Dick Gambino and Praveen Chaudhari, initially thought in 1972 that their discovery would apply mostly to computer hard drives because it would dramatically increase the amount of data they could hold. But the real impact of the discovery was much greater: the rewritable disk.

The disks spawned a $2 billion industry, and made Cuomo and his co-inventors famous.

Cuomo, who received a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Manhattan College in 1958, a masters from St. John’s University in 1960, and a doctorate in physics from Odense Universitet in Denmark in 1979, retired from IBM in 1993 and joined the faculty of North Carolina State University as a Distinguished Professor of Research Materials Science and Engineering.

Looking back on the team’s invention for an IBM history, Cuomo noted how easily it could have been for the team to fail. “Looking back, it’s easy to see how the chain of events that led us to the substance and properties we were looking for might have been broken at any point.”

By Robert Warren