Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Physics Nobel 2010

Few days back, I was suggested by a senior academician to take a look into the new post-silicon stuff that's creating tremendous uproar across various scientific communities. It holds promise as a material to change the face of electronics, the same way silicon did it years ago. I googled through it and found a researcher called Dr. Andre Geim (wiki entry here) have discovered this magnificient material called Graphene. His summary paper on Graphene, published in 2007, have been by now cited over 2000 times (link). This shows how impactful the discovery have been. As he received Nobel Physics award this year, I saw myself in front of another history being made, watching from just across the English channel. Congratulations Dr Andrei Geim and Dr Konstantin Novoselov !

I have never trained in the field of material sciences and therefore, it is difficult for me to do any justice to the beauty of the innovation. Besides, it is a much-written topic anyway.

A few things about Graphene nonetheless, can be hardly mistaken. It is the first known material, which is existing in purely 2 dimensional atomic structure. Whatever materials you see around and however thin those are, they eventually form a 3-dimensional structure with at least few layers of atom. It was a strong notion in scintific world till Andre Geim showed the otherwise that, 2 dimensional structures cannot exist in a stable form. This 2D structure turned out to be a fascinating piece for experimental studies of various atomic effects. Imagine you to witness something, which was hidden inside a 3D structure before, unravel in front of you neatly. Here is how it looks like (not really, artists rendition) and the structure you see are called honeycomb layout.

Now the industrial impact. 2D Graphene materials can also be grown on other surfaces. Besides that, it is optically transparent, chemically inert and excellent conductor..oops. That is the perfect thing you want to have for many electro-optical devices e.g. solar cells, sensors, LCD.

What most fascinated me is the way Dr. Geim invented it. They did it with a Gecko tape, a kind of adhesive tape, which fixes itself strongly even on the smoothest of surfaces. They took a Graphite sheet, which is few million atomic layers of Graphene and repeatedly applied Gecko tape to peel few layers out of it ! This is done in a moment of fun to enjoy the physics. The fun in work attitude Dr. Geim promoted is visible in an interview of his student and co-winner of Nobel award in Physics. (link).

Finally, do you know where to find the graphenes ? Those are in the lead you see in your pencil. Next time, when you try some pencil sculptures, check if you see a single atomic layer on your fingertip.

Photograph taken by Dalton Ghetti / Solent News.

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