Nobel Prize given to duo for work on ultra-thin carbon

by Kelly MacNeil on October 5, 2010

Two Russian-born physicists won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for their work with ultra-thin flakes of carbon. The New York Times reports that 51-year-old Andre Geim and 36-year-old Konstantin Novoselev took home the $1.4 million prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The pair won the award for their research regarding the properties of graphene, which is a form of carbon that is less than an atom thick – making it the thinnest material in the world. In addition to its miniscule size, graphene also appears to be the strongest substance ever tested. Some measurements have found that graphene has a breaking point 200 times greater than steel.

Graphene is also able to conduct electricity better than any other substance, which is what led Geim and Novoselev to first start experimenting with it.

According to the news source, the pair were looking for a way to test the electrical properties of graphite, but they needed very thin pieces. To do this, the duo mimicked how graphite was cleaned with scotch tape before being looked at under a microscope. The tape pulls off thin layers of the material, and provided the scientists with the microscopic thickness they needed. They first published a pair of papers about the substance in 2004 and 2005, but it was not until recently that interested in the material grew.

“We knew about the method before, but everything is good in its own time, so one glance at it and we knew – that must be it,” Novoselev told in 2009.

Due to it’s incredible strength, transparency and conductivity, some experts expect graphene to have a variety of possible uses. The Times reports that physicists predict the substance will replace silicon in computer chips, improve flatscreen televisions and serve as a new way to monitor pollution in major cities.

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