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Geim, Novoselov Win Nobel Prize In Physics


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're another day into Nobel Prize season. The Nobel Prize for Physics has just been announced.�It's gone to two scientists who were born in Russia, and who now work together at the University of Manchester, in England.

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov received the award for discovering a new form of carbon called graphene.�It's described as being an extremely, extremely, extremely flat sheet of material. It's said to be able to do amazing things. So we're going to talk about that with NPR science correspondent Dan Charles.

Good morning.

DAN CHARLES: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Graphene?

CHARLES: Graphene. And the discovery of grapheme is one of those stories that makes you feel like you and I could do physics...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHARLES: ...and not just people with big atom smashers. Because the way it was actually discovered was on a Friday afternoon, they had a tradition in this laboratory of doing just kind of experiments - crazy experiments.


CHARLES: They put Scotch tape down on a block of graphite, which is pure carbon. Same kind of thing that's in this pencil here.

INSKEEP: OK. All right.

CHARLES: They rolled the Scotch tape off and they realized they could get a thin layer of flat carbon. Now, it wasn't grapheme.

INSKEEP: On the tape. It sticks to the tape.

CHARLES: On the tape. It stuck to the tape. And they realized this is a thin flat sheet of carbon. We could refine this technique and get a sheet a single atom thick. That is grapheme. Of course, they had to have much better, more sophisticated methods.

INSKEEP: So a sheet of this paper only one atom thick?

CHARLES: exactly.

INSKEEP: Unbelievably (unintelligible)...

CHARLES: Unbelievably thin, unbelievably strong, because carbon is this amazing material.

That happened in 2004, which is not that long ago. So for them to get the Nobel Prize for it now, is actually quite quick by Nobel Prize standards. And you can sense the excitement in the scientific community.

INSKEEP: OK. Why the excitement? What do you do with this unbelievably thin sheet of carbon?

CHARLES: Well, that is the thing that lots of people are now working on. You go to scientific conferences in physics and chemistry and there are many, many sessions on grapheme and the things that you might be able to do with it.

INSKEEP: Heck of a paper airplane, I think.

CHARLES: Some of the characteristics - OK. It's a really, really good conductor of electricity. It's flexible. It's so think you can see right through it. It's transparent. Very strong, very light. So they're thinking about things like touch screens or electronic sensors or down the road, many other things, maybe even electronic components fabricated out of this super, super thin material.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that the computers that we use or the smartphones and so forth could be even smarter and more functional using this stuff?

CHARLES: That's right. It's being fabricated already, the material is, in strips up to say 30 inches across. So it's real. It exists. But they're still trying to figure out what it might be good for.

INSKEEP: So who are these two Russian-born scientists who discovered this with the Scotch tape?

CHARLES: Well, they're interesting. They're - first of all, they're pretty young by Nobel Prize standards. Andre Geim, sort of the leader of this team, is 51. Konstantin Novoselov�is only 36. They were born in Russia, but like a lot of young Russian scientists they emmigrated. Things were not going so well for scientists in the early '90s, so there was an exodus, including them.

They settled first in the Netherlands.

INSKEEP: Even after the fall of the Soviet Union it wasn't a good time for scientists?

CHARLES: It was an especially bad time because of the economic collapse. So there was no support for them.

They have a tradition of kind of having fun. Andre Geim is kind of famous for levitating a frog using magnetic fields and publishing that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And he once published a paper and listed his favorite hamster as a co-author.

INSKEEP: Do you know the hamster's name?

CHARLES: Yes. I have the abstract right here. It is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHARLES: ... H.A.M.S. ter Tisha.

INSKEEP: OK. But H.A.M.S. ter Tisha does not share the Nobel Prize?


INSKEEP: OK. But these two Russian guys do, for discovering grapheme.

Dan, thanks very much.

CHARLES: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dan Charles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dan Charles
Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.