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Nobel for miracle form of carbon

Andre Geim, 51, and Konstatin Novoselov, 36, formally received the 10 million Swedish-kronor (£1 million) prize in an announcement today by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Novoselov is the youngest Nobel laureate since 1973. Graphene: 21st century's silicon

world Updated: Oct 05, 2010 23:50 IST

Andre Geim, 51, and Konstatin Novoselov, 36, formally received the 10 million Swedish-kronor (£1 million) 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 one of the most exciting new materials for producing electronic components. The thin wafers can also be used to study some of the more peculiar effects of quantum mechanics.

Graphene consists of carbon atoms held together in a flat lattice like chicken wire. Drawing a pencil across a sheet of paper produces thin sheets of graphite, but Geim and Novoselov managed to find a way to reliably separate these sheets into wafers only a single atom thick. There are around three million sheets of graphene in a millimetre-thick graphite layer.

Novoselov was chatting online to a friend in Holland at 10 am this morning when he heard of his award in a phone call from the Nobel committee. "It was quite shocking. Every October someone speculates about this and you learn not to pay attention."

Geim encouraged creative experiments at the laboratory, Novosolev said. "We'd just try crazy things and sometimes they worked and sometimes not. Graphene was one of those that worked from the very beginning. It's such a robust material and all the effects were so pronounced," said Novosolev.