Two scientists at Manchester University have won the 2010 Nobel prize for physics for creating the thinnest possible flakes of carbon.
Andrew Geim, 51, and Konstatin Novoselov, 36, formally received the 10m Swedish-kronor (£1m) prize in an announcement today by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Novoselov is the youngest Nobel laureate since 1973.
Geim and Novoselov were both born in Russia and collaborated as PhD supervisor and student in the Netherlands before moving to Manchester University, one of Britain’s top physics institutes.
The scientists’ breakthrough came from a deceptively simple experiment in 2004 that involved a block of carbon and some Scotch tape. The two used the tape to strip off layers of carbon that were only one atom thick. These thin wafers of carbon, known as graphene, were found to have extraordinary properties.
Tests showed the graphene layers were stretchy, as strong as steel and almost completely transparent. Graphene is an exceptionally good conductor of heat and electricity, properties that have made it one of the most exciting new materials for producing electronic components, from touchscreens to pollution sensors. The thin wafers can also be used to study some of the more peculiar effects of quantum mechanics.