Developers of Ultra-Thin, Super-Strong Carbon Win Physics Nobel

BY Jenny Marder and Tom LeGro  October 5, 2010 at 11:05 AM EDT

Two Russian scientists will share $1.5 million and the Nobel Prize in physics for their “groundbreaking experiments” on the world’s thinnest and strongest material, graphene. Graphene is just one atom thick, but 100 times stronger than the steel, and highly conductive. It is expected to revolutionize computer chips, touch screens and semi conductors.

Andre Geim, 51, a Dutch national, and Konstantin Novoselov, 36, who holds British and Russian citizenship, are professors at the University of Manchester in Britain. The two are known for a playful, somewhat unconvential approach to science that once included levitating a frog in a magnetic field.

You can see video of the levitating frog here:

In 2004, they isolated graphene by removing a tiny flake of carbon from the tip of an ordinary pencil using scotch tape. The material, they found, was composed of densely packed carbon atoms arranged much like chicken wire.

Here’s an image of graphene, as depicted by Jannik Meyer in the journal Science in May 2009:

A Reuters factbox lists the material’s perks. Among them, it’s stronger than diamond and conducts electricity better than any other material, including copper.

“Graphene transistors are predicted to be substantially faster than today’s silicon transistors and result in more efficient computers,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in the citation. “Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels and maybe even solar cells.”

The Economist’s Babbage reacts:

“As buckminsterfullerene was in its day, graphene is now hailed, metaphorically, as the most exciting thing since sliced bread.”

Readers of Wired Science will remember Geim and Novoselov from a 2008 readers’ poll in which the pair was the clear favorite to win that year’s Nobel prize in physics. Two years later, their fans can celebrate.