Two scientists win Nobel Prize for graphene; thinnest, strongest material ever

Two University of Manchester scientists win the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for their work with graphene, the thinnest, strongest material ever discovered.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

You might think all the coverage of graphene is a flash in the pan -- even though we wrote about it, discussed it, analyzed it and dissected it here on SmartPlanet -- but think again.

Two University of Manchester scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, have won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on the ultra-thin carbon material, just one atom thick.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences explains:

Graphene is a form of carbon. As a material it is completely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest. As a conductor of electricity it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it. Carbon, the basis of all known life on earth, has surprised us once again.

Geim and Novoselov extracted the graphene from a piece of graphite such as is found in ordinary pencils. Using regular adhesive tape they managed to obtain a flake of carbon with a thickness of just one atom. This at a time when many believed it was impossible for such thin crystalline materials to be stable.

Graphene's signature is its flat hexagon lattice that looks much like microscopic chicken wire. It's part of a recent wave of carbon forms -- including buckyballs and nanotubes -- that are poised to change the developmental path of technology.

The New York Times describes it:

It is not only the thinnest material in the world, but also the strongest: a sheet of it stretched over a coffee cup could support the weight of a truck bearing down on a pencil point.

With graphene, the physicists can now study a new class of truly two-dimensional materials. The nearly transparent conducting material, in transistor form, hints at the possibility of creating faster, more efficient electronics, as well as new touch screens, light panels and solar cells.

And, mixed with plastic as a composite, stronger, more heat resistant, thinner, lighter and more elastic products, from satellites to airplanes to vehicles.

Geim, 51, and Novoselov, 36, will split the $1.4 million prize.

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