A discovery with the potential to leap-frog many of today's technologies won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics
today. Many scientists tried to accomplish it, but it was
two Russian-born quantum physicists, now working together in Britain, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who achieved what was thought by many to be impossible: the separation of graphene from graphite.
Single layers of graphene, carbon atoms, are arranged in a honeycomb lattice: image via Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2010
Graphene is one of the most technologically promising substances in the universe; the strongest and most dense substance, not even the smallest gas atom - helium - can pas through it. Graphene is a form of carbon that exists in graphite, a material found in the common pencil.
Geim and Novoselov found that using a pencil to draw or to write left traces of graphene on the surface of the paper. From a piece of graphite similar to pencil lead, the pair were able to lift a piece of carbon only one atom thick with regular adhesive tape.
In 2004, many scientists did not even think it possible that a spec of carbon that small would be stable. But graphene, a two-dimensional material, is not only stable, but it can be extracted from graphite much more easily than originally thought, and therefore gives scientists in all fields access to new discovery and application opportunities.
Technology, and we as consumers, will also benefit from the creation of new materials made from graphene. Graphene being equal to copper in its ability to conduct electricity, will also make transistors substantially faster than silicon transitors, thereby enabling faster and more efficient computers and other electronic devices. This carbon can even make plastics conductive!
Graphene is heat resistant and nearly transparent, making it suitable for television and computer touch screens, light panels, and solar cells. Fabric manufacturing can also benefit from graphene, being a material that can add strength to lightweight or elastic fabrics.
And wouldn't it save some lives and insurance costs if our cars and airplanes were made from composites that contained graphene?