Web Date: October 5, 2010
Discovery Of Graphene Earns Physics Nobel
The discovery of graphene—a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern that boasts outstanding mechanical and electronic properties--has won physicists Andre K. Geim, 51, and Konstantin S. Novoselov, 36, both of the University of Manchester, in the U.K., the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. The researchers will share nearly $1.5 million in prize money.
The idea that a single "freestanding" sheet of graphene—meaning a one-atom-thick carbon film that rests on or is suspended from but is not tightly attached to a support—could be isolated, had been investigated since the 1980s, when carbon nanotubes and buckeyballs were discovered.
Yet after years of trying unsuccessfully to separate graphite into its constituent graphene sheets, researchers had concluded by the early part of this decade that freestanding graphene could not be isolated. Thermodynamics principles predicted that the material would spontaneously roll up into a nanotube or other curved structure. "At that time, graphene was considered a hypothetical or academic material," Geim told C&EN in 2009 (C&EN March 2, 2009 page 14).
Yet in 2004, Geim and Novoselov, who was a postdoc at that time, worked out a surprisingly simple method for exfoliating little chips of graphite by folding adhesive tape against the crystals and peeling apart the tape repeatedly. The team showed that not only could single sheets of graphene be isolated, but they remain particularly stable at room temperature (Science 2004, 306, 666).
The discovery of that rudimentary method for isolating graphene sheets led to an explosion in graphene research. The material has quickly become a top choice for advanced computing applications, digital displays and other types of flexible electronics, and advanced composite materials. Experts contend that graphene's usefulness is only just beginning to be discovered.
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