Two University of Manchester scientists have been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on graphene, widely seen as having the potential to replace silicon in electronics.
On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the 10m Swedish kronor (£940,000) prize is going to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene".
"This is a fantastic honour," Geim said in a statement. "People have been talking about graphene as a possible prize winner for a number of years, so for the community in graphene research, it hardly comes as a surprise.
"However, I personally did not expect to get this prize. I slept soundly last night because I never expected to win it," he added.
Graphene, a form of carbon, is an excellent conductor that takes the form of a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms. As it performs better at component sizes below 10nm — about the point at which silicon becomes much harder to improve in the way that has driven Moore's Law for 50 years — it is regarded as key to the future of nanoelectronics.
Graphene also exhibits a number of unusual properties such as ballistic conduction — where electrons move through its structure extremely fast with virtually no resistance and apparently no mass — which have generated a very rapid increase in physicists' interest in the material.
Geim and Novoselov's first breakthrough, in 2004, was to use a simple piece of adhesive tape to obtain a flake of graphene one atom thick from a piece of ordinary graphite, such as that used in pencils. They also demonstrated that such sheets of graphene were stable, despite predictions to the contrary.
Then, in 2008, the Manchester scientists said that they had created the world's smallest transistor, measuring one atom thick and 10 atoms wide, out of graphene. Each transistor was on the scale of a small molecule.
"Previously, researchers tried to use large molecules as individual transistors to create a new kind of electronic circuit," Novoselov said at the time. "It is like a bit of chemistry added to computer engineering. Now one can think of designer molecules acting as transistors connected into designer computer architecture on the basis of the same material (graphene), and use the same fabrication approach that is currently used by the semiconductor industry."
Geim, who is 51, and 36-year-old Novoselov grew up and studied in Russia before moving to the Netherlands to continue their research. They later took up positions at the University of Manchester, where they are both professors.