Graphene proves Nobel Prize worthy

(October 6, 2010) — The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010 to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both of the University of Manchester, UK, for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.

A one-atom-thick flake of carbon, the nano material graphene was demonstrated by Geim and Novoselov to have exceptional properties that originate from the remarkable world of quantum physics. You can read the scientific background on graphene compiled for the Royal Swedish Academy here.

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As a conductor of electricity, graphene performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat, it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it.

Geim and Novoselov extracted the graphene from a piece of graphite such as is found in ordinary 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.

However, with graphene, physicists can now study a new class of two-dimensional materials with unique properties. Graphene makes experiments possible that give new twists to the phenomena in quantum physics. Also a vast variety of practical applications now appear possible including the creation of new materials and the manufacture of innovative electronics. Graphene transistors are predicted to be substantially faster than today’s silicon transistors and result in more efficient computers.

 

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) image of a monolayer of graphene. Black area is substrate; dark orange is a monolayer of graphene about 0.5nm thick. The bright orange part contains a few layers, at about 2nm thick. Source: Scientific background material for the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels, and maybe even solar cells. Recent news has hinted at future mass production methods for graphene.

When mixed into plastics, graphene can turn them into conductors of electricity while making them more heat resistant and mechanically robust. This resilience can be used in new super strong materials, which are also thin, elastic and lightweight. In the future, satellites, airplanes, and cars could be manufactured out of the new composite materials.

This year’s Laureates have been working together for a long time. Konstantin Novoselov, 36, first worked with Andre Geim, 51, as a PhD student in the Netherlands. He subsequently followed Geim to the UK. Both of them originally studied and began their careers as physicists in Russia. Now they are both professors at the University of Manchester. In awarding the Nobel Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy noted that "playfulness is one of their hallmarks." The SEK 10 million prize money is to be shared equally between the Nobel Laureates.

Biographies of the Nobel Laureates

Andre Geim, Dutch citizen. Born 1958 in Sochi, Russia. Ph.D. 1987 from Institute of Solid State Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Chernogolovka, Russia. Director of Manchester Centre for Meso-science & Nanotechnology, Langworthy Professor of Physics and Royal Society 2010 Anniversary Research Professor, University of Manchester, UK.
www.condmat.physics.manchester.ac.uk/people/academic/geim

Konstantin Novoselov, Brittish and Russian citizen. Born 1974 in Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Ph.D. 2004 from Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Professor and Royal Society Research Fellow, University of Manchester, UK.
www.condmat.physics.manchester.ac.uk/people/academic/novoselov

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, founded in 1739, is an independent organization whose overall objective is to promote the sciences and strengthen their influence in society. The Academy takes special responsibility for the natural sciences and mathematics, but endeavours to promote the exchange of ideas between various disciplines.

For information about the Nobel Prize in Physics, including ways to post questions to the prize recipients and more information about their work, visit http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2010/

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