STOCKHOLM, Oct. 5, 2010 — Two Russian expatriates who discovered graphene — the thinnest and strongest form of carbon known — were honored Tuesday with the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Professors Andre Geim, 51, and Konstantin Novoselov, 36, began their careers as physicists in Russia. Konstantin first worked with Geim as a PhD student in the Netherlands and followed Geim to the UK. Both are now professors at the University of Manchester in England. Graphene was discovered at the university in 2004, and has since become one of the hottest topics in materials science and solid-state physics.
Geim and Novoselov extracted the graphene — a thin flake of ordinary carbon — from a piece of ordinary graphite found in pencils. Using regular adhesive tape they managed to obtain a flake of carbon with a thickness of just one atom. This at a time when many believed it was impossible for such thin crystalline materials to be stable.
A two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms that resemble chicken wire, Graphene has since shown it performs as well as copper as a conductor of electricity, and outperforms all other known materials as a conductor of heat. The material is so thin it is almost completely transparent, yet so dense than not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it.
Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms. (Image: Alexander Alus, licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)
While the electrical properties of graphene have been explored since its discovery — such as its ability to replace silicon as a base material for high-speed electronics — researchers are just beginning to unveil the material's potential in photonics and optoelectronics. For example, the material is being investigated as a substrate for Raman spectroscopy enhancement (See: Graphene: The rising star in Raman spectroscopy
), and an ultrafast mode-locked graphene laser was announced in March.
Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels, and maybe even solar cells.
"I slept soundly last night because I never expected to win it," Geim said this morning. "Having won the Nobel Prize, some people sit back and stop doing anything, whereas others work so hard that they go mad in a few years. But I will be going into the office as usual and continuing to work hard and paddle through life as usual."
Scanning electron micrograph of a strongly crumpled graphene sheet on a silicon wafer. Note that it looks like silk thrown over a surface. Lateral size of the image is 20 µm. Silicon wafer is at the bottom-right corner. (Image: University of Manchester)
"I was really shocked when I heard the news and my first thought was to go to the lab and tell the team," Novoselov said.
Geim and Novoselov will split the cash prize of 10 million Swedish kronor, or about $1.5 million.
For more information, visit: www.manchester.ac.uk