Graphene may be the material that transforms the electronics game into something amazingly new for the 21st century–the Nobel Prize committee seems to agree, and has awarded the 2010 Physics prize to two graphene scientists.
Graphene was once thought impossible to manufacture–it’s simply an atom-deep layer of interconnected carbon atoms, like a single layer of graphite. Despite its simplicity it has astonishing powers, including being the best conductor of heat of any known material, that make it extraordinarily relevant to the development of electronics. The Nobel Committee notes in the citation for this year’s 2010 physics prize that since “it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels and maybe even solar cells.” There’s mention of “super-strong materials” and their future in satellites, aircraft, and cars. Graphene could also aid studies in quantum physics and result in more efficient computers. It may be novel to see the word “maybe” in a citation for the award of the most highly prized recognition in physics, but this is just testament to the newness and promise of this entire field of research.
It’s thanks to their discoveries in graphene science that Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselo, who work in the U.K. but began their careers in Russia, have been recognized. The two scientists came up with the technique that first resulted in samples of graphene–peeling individual atoms-deep sheets of the material from a bigger block of pure graphite. The science here seems almost foolishly simple, but it took a lot of lateral thinking to dream up, and then some serious science to investigate: Geim and Novoselo literally “ripped” single sheets off the graphite by using regular adhesive tape. Once they’d confirmed they had grabbed micro-flakes of the material, Geim and Novoselo were responsible for some of the very early experiments into the material’s properties. Novel stuff indeed, but perhaps not so unexpected from a scientist (Geim) who the Nobel Committe notes once managed to make a frog levitate in a magnetic field.
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