Tuesday, October 05, 2010

From IGNobel to the Nobel Prize

Congratulations to Andre Geim of the University of Manchester, the first winner of both the IGNobel and the Nobel Prize in Physics!

Back in 2000, Andre Geim shared the IgNobel Prize with Sir Michael Berry, for his celebrated levitating frog eperiment.

Today, ten years later, he has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010, together with Konstantin Novoselov, for "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene".

Graphene, as this chicken-wire single-atom carbon layer is called, is a cool material for theorists and experimentalists alike - just have a look at Google to see how popular and important this stuff has become.

It seems to me that the way how Geim and Novoselov discovered graphene in 2004 by using adhesive tape to peel a single layer of carbon atoms off a piece of graphite - the "Scotch tape method" - and the levitating frog clearly show the same playful attitude towards physics, a great way to do science!

For a first reading about Graphene, check out Carbon Wonderland by Andre Geim and Philip Kim, Scientific American April 2008, and Graphene: Exploring Carbon Flatland by Andre Geim and Allan MacDonald, Physics Today 60 (2007) 35-41.

More technical papers can also be found on the website of Geim's group at Manchester.



  1. Let me add that Stefan did not write this post after the Nobel Prize was announced, but had it prepared long in advance...

  2. Better luck next time Reuters! http://science.thomsonreuters.com/nobel/2010predictions/#physics

  3. Damn, I wanted to be the first scientist, who get both the Prizes. Now, there will be no fun in getting the Nobel Prize :-(

  4. If number 2 tries harder what does #3 do?

    Win, apparently.

    The top 3 candidates in the reasonable betting circles as described here were:

    1) For the development of the LED laser, Nick Holonyak; Shuji Nakamura, blue laser; Robert Hall, first semiconductor laser. These technical developments all have had enormous practical value. LED lasers, for instance, are mounted in most grocery scanners and CD players. (15.9% of the vote).

    2) For studies of weird quantum properties, such as nonlocality, entanglement, decoherence, and atom optics (Alan Aspect, Serge Harouche, Anton Zeilinger, Charles Bennett, Anton Zurek, David Pritchard, Joerg Schmiedmayer, David Wineland, Peter Zoller). Experiments by these scientists tend to uphold all the counter-intuitive predictions of quantum mechanics, such as the idea that an atom can be in two places at the same time. (11.6% of the vote).

    3) For discovering graphene (Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov). Discovered only a few years ago, graphene is a form of carbon consisting of one-atom-thick sheets. Already the subject is one of the most active in all of condensed matter physics because of graphene’s properties, such as its high conductivity and its great mechanical strength. Many scientists expect graphene to play a large role in electronics. (11.3% of the vote).

    Congrats, but I'm a little sad Freeman Dyson or Benoit Mandelbrot didn't get it. However, the Swedish Academy doesn't give lifetime achievement awards, and the Nobel's original purpose was to reward young bright thinkers with enough money to help them keep doing those things they do so well.

  5. A single atom thick graphene layer is visible! Graphene optical absorption is (pi)(alpha), 3.141593/137.0360 ~ 2.29%.

    "Fine structure constant defines visual transparency of graphene",
    Science 320 1308 (2008)

    However lovely the Swedish prize is, the 2010 IgNobel prize conferred a cash prize of 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars. 10 trillion!

    (Heir to financial innovation, the Zimbab is not pegged to gold but to anaerobic digester feed. The US struggles to be competitive by pegging its dollar to recycled polyethylene shopping bags.)

  6. "just have a look at Google to see how popular and important this stuff has become"

    "Popular", certainly. But "important"? Not so clear. I long ago grew tired of hearing about the "potential" of graphene, to revolutionize mobile phones, make ultra-thin sticky tape, cure cancer, compute the value of the fine structure constant, reform Marxism etc etc etc. But what has it actually done for us? What are the *realistic* prospects for doing important things with it in the foreseeable future?

    To me this prize seems to have been awarded by a condensed matter fraternity who are deeply grateful to these guys for allowing them to write a very large number of papers that would otherwise not have been published. The levitating frogs were more entertaining.

  7. http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/v5/n8/abs/nnano.2010.132.html

    Coming to your touchscreens soon!

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  9. Hi Stefan,

    Thanks so much for this article announcing Geim and Novoselov being awarded the Nobel prize. More so I thank you for pointing out that Scientific American article which synopsises the discovery, as I never really had looked at it in any depth other than it being just another newsworthy announcement. What hit me when reading it was how much this is all connected with both the theory and vision of Richard Feynman and how interested he would have been with its discovery had he been still with us. That is in it being a material whose potentials and actions can only be understood by incorporating his theory, being also one that holds promise to having realized his vision respective of the utility of nano technology. This connection stood out for me as being a startling omission in the author’s otherwise interesting and informative description.



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  11. Rastus wrote:
    But what has it actually done for us?

    I'm more concerned what it can do to us, because if it's not handled carefully, it does terrible things to human cells.

    So does botulism, but people handle that and live to tell the tale. Graphene is far nastier.


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