Wonder carbon pioneers win Nobel Physics Prize

Sunday 18 September 2011 15:00

Two Russian-born scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, won the 2010 Nobel Physics Prize Tuesday for pioneering work on graphene, touted as the wonder material of the 21st century.

Both laureates began their careers as physicists in Russia but now work at the University of Manchester in Britain. Geim holds Dutch nationality and Novoselov is both a British and Russian national.

The Swedish Academy of Sciences hailed graphene - "the perfect atomic lattice" - for its glittering potential in computers, home gadgets and transport.

It lauded Geim, 51, and Novoselov, 36, for having "shown that carbon in such a flat form has exceptional properties that originate from the remarkable world of quantum physics."

The prize honours a breakthrough that paved the way to graphene, a form of carbon touted as the next-generation super-material.

Just one atom thick, it is the world's thinnest and strongest nano-material, almost transparent and able to conduct electricity and heat.

As a result, graphene is described as the candidate material to replace silicon semi-conductors.

Graphene transistors would in theory be able to run at faster speeds and cope with higher temperatures than today's classic computer chips.

That would resolving a fast-growing problem facing chip engineers who want to boost power and shrink semiconductor size but without raising temperatures, the bugbear of computing.

Its transparency means it could potentially be used in touch screens and even solar cells, and when mixed with plastics would provide light but super-strong composite materials for next-generation satellites, planes and cars.

The Nobel jury acknowledged that most of graphene's practical applications "exist only in our fantasies, but many are already being tested."

The committee added the laureates believed research should be fun.

For instance, Geim managed in 1997 to make a frog levitate in a magnetic field, the jury said, calling it "an ingenious way of illustrating the principles of physics."

On Tuesday, Geim told the committee he was looking at emails and looking at archives when he got the call.

"I slept well, I didn't expect the Nobel Prize this year," he said, adding he was going straight back to work.

"In my opinion there are several categories of Nobel Prize winners, one which after getting the Nobel Prize stop doing anything for the rest of their life. It is a big disservice for the community," he said.

The other category of people, which he said he belonged to, were "people who think people think they won the Nobel Prize by accident so they start working even harder than before."

Last year, Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith won the physics prize for work on fibre optics and light sensing that helped unleash the Information Technology revolution.

On Monday, Bob Edwards of Britain won the Nobel Medicine Prize for his pioneering work on in vitro fecondation, which made test tube babies possible and brought the joy of parenthood to millions of infertile couples.

The Chemistry Prize laureates will be named on Wednesday, followed by the two most-watched awards, Literature and Peace, on Thursday and Friday.

The Economics Prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday October 11.

The Nobel prizes, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, were first awarded in 1901.

This year's laureates will receive 10 million Swedish kronor (1.49 million dollars, 1.09 million euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

The Peace Prize will be handed out in Oslo on December 10.

Other Nobel laureates will pick up their prizes in Stockholm on the same day.


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