5 October 2010

Nobel Prize to former physicist from Niels Bohr Institute

The 2010 Nobel laureate in physics has been awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their "groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene". Graphene is a form of carbon. As a material it is entirely new – a thin sheet of ordinary carbon in a layer just one atom thick. This unique material is both extremely strong, almost transparent and conducts electric current just as well as copper. 

Konstantin Novoselov

Konstantin Novoselov

Both Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov are from Russia, but are currently working at the University of Manchester in England. Andre Geim has worked as a researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute.

"One day in the earth 90s a young physicist knocked on my door. He was from the former Soviet Union, which had recently collapsed, and now he wanted to see the world. It was Andre Geim", explains Per Hedegård, professor at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Per Hedegård says that Andre Geim explained his experiments and ideas and it ended with the then head of the department, Professor Poul Erik Lindelof finding some funds so that they could offer the young Russian physicist a post doc research position. 
Pencil lead and tape

Andre Geim

Andre Geim

Andre Geim did not think in the traditional way about how to make small improvements on earlier experiments – he had completely new, fresh ideas. Carbon can have many different configurations, depending on how the individual carbon atoms bond together. They often bind together to form three dimensional lattices. 

But Andre Geim made an experiment. He drew a line with a pencil then took a piece of tape and placed it over the pencil line. When he pulled the tape off he got a one-atom thick layer of carbon atoms. It was the perfect way to get a two dimensional carbon lattice and it is these experiments, along with his further research that have led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, which he shares with Konstantin Novoselov.

Unique properties

"The two dimensional carbon lattices have amazing properties, for example, the electrons in the material behave like light. They all move at the same speed in the atomic layers and with a speed that is only 300 times slower than light", explains Per Hedegård.

Visualization of Graphene structure

Grapnene. The almost perfect web is only one
atom thick. It consists of carbon atoms joined
together in a
hexagonal pattern similar to bee wax.

It also has some unique technical properties. It is very robust and strong and difficult to rip apart. It is almost transparent and yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom can slip through its lattices. As a conductor of electricity it works just as well as copper and as a conductor of heat it outperforms all other known materials.

Both Nobel laureates think that it should be fun to research. Research is serious but playing with the possibilities is their trademark. They have now worked together for several years and are both professors at the University of Manchester.