The 2010 Nobel For Physics Goes For…

By Andrew Moseman | October 5, 2010 10:08 am


The wonder material snagged the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics today, bringing the award to Russian scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who work at the University of Manchester in the U.K.

Novoselov and Geim didn’t discover graphene, which is made of sheets of carbon just one atom thick. Physicists had known about it for years, but these two showed the way to produce it quickly and easily.

Novoselov was a postdoctoral fellow working in Geim’s lab in 2004 when the researchers discovered that they could make atomically thin slabs of carbon by repeatedly cleaving graphite—essentially pencil lead—with adhesive tape. Their 2004 Science paper describing the material and its the electrical properties has already been cited more than 3,000 times, according to Thomson Web of Science. [Scientific American]

That plethora of citations comes because the list of graphene’s attributes and possible applications is a long one:

A sheet of it stretched over a coffee cup could support the weight of a truck bearing down on a pencil point. Among its other properties, it conducts electricity and heat better than any other known material and is completely transparent. Physicists say that eventually it could rival silicon as a basis for computer chips, serve as a sensitive pollution monitoring material, improve flat screen televisions and enable the creation of new materials, among other things. [The New York Times]

(For more about why graphene has scientists and engineers so excited, check out the DISCOVER Magazine feature “Life After Silicon—How Graphene Could Revolutionize Electronics.”)

The award was a bit of a surprise given that the scientists’ work is so recent, and while Geim is 51 years old, Novoselov is just 36.

Novoselov is the youngest winner since 1973 of a prize that normally goes to scientists with decades of experience. The youngest Nobel laureate to date is Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 when he shared the physics award with his father William Bragg in 1915. “It’s a shock,” Novoselov [says]. “I started my day chatting over Skype over new developments — it was quite unexpected.” [Boston Globe]

Still, the selection could be a popular one among physicists. In an American Institute of Physics poll last week that asked who should win the Nobel, Novoselov and Geim came in third of all the possibilities. Who’s still waiting? The physicists’ first choice was the inventors of the LED lasers that are ubiquitous in DVD players and the scanners at grocery stores. Their list also included scientists who studied weird quantum phenomena like entanglement, those who discovered and developed carbon nanotubes, and the researchers behind chaos theory.

Yesterday Robert G. Edwards won the medicine Nobel for his contribution to in vitro fertilization. The chemistry and peace prizes are yet to come this week. Economics will be announced on Monday.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Life After Silicon—How Graphene Could Revolutionize Electronics
DISCOVER: The Graphene Revolution
80beats: New Way to Make Graphene Could Lead to Transparent, Bendable Electronics
80beats: Great Galloping Graphene! IBM’s New Transistor Works at Record Speed

Image: University of Manchester (Novoselov, left, and Geim)


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