Congratulations to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Geim and Novoselov for their work on graphene, a material consisting of one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms in a hexagonal array. This is one of those prizes that was basically inevitable, as graphene is one of the hot materials of the last couple of years. Hardly a week goes by without a couple of press releases touting some amazing new potential application.

Joerg Heber has a nice explanation of the basics of graphene, including some cautionary notes about overhype. From an experimentalist’s perspective, the really cool thing about this prize is that the central experiment is so low-tech. Geim and Novoselov’s biggest discovery was that you can make graphene really easily by picking up tiny flakes of graphite (from pencil scribbles, say) with adhesive tape. You’ve got to like that kind of ingenuity, though it might be a little risky to let funding agencies know about this, particularly in the UK (“What do you mean, you need a billion pounds’ worth of apparatus? The last guys to win a Nobel here used Scotch tape!”).

From a Nobel-watching perspective, this is interesting for two reasons: First, it’s one of the quicker prizes in recent memory, coming just six years after the experiments in question (matching the 2001 prize for BEC). Second, it’s only split two ways, rather than the maximum possible three, allowing lots of room for people to speculate/pontificate about who should’ve gotten the third share. In a more light-hearted vein, Stefan notes that Geim had previously shared the Ig Nobel for experiments involving a levitating frog, which may make him the first to win both prizes, especially in that order (I’m too lazy to check).

While Geim and Novoselov were nominated in last year’s betting pool, nobody put their names in to this year’s, so no guest posts yet this year.

(I’m still working on getting out of the hole I dug for myself by skipping town for five days last week, so regular blogging will not resume until next week at the earliest.)

9 thoughts on “Congratulations to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov

  1. Andre Geim thus becomes the first person ever to win both an Ig (the famous levitating frog) and a Nobel… and he’s 36!

  2. Actually, if I remember my Skeptics Guide to the Universe Properly, there was a winner of both mentioned in a 2007 (episode 116 most likely). Either that or maybe they mentioned a double Ig winner

  3. I think Geim and Novoselov’s real discovery was not that Scotch tape produces graphene, but that graphene flakes can be found with an optical microscope. If graphene were found to be stable (which was disputed, for Mermin-Wagner-Hohenberg reasons), finding sparsely distributed flakes of graphene on a substrate with an electron microscope or STM was too difficult, because the field of view is so small. But there were arguments in the literature that it should not be visible with optical microscopes, because the index difference is too small. Finding that graphene on SiO2 substrates of just the right thickness gave sufficient contrast to be seen in an optical microscope is really what allowed the study of graphene to take off.

    Also, Novoselov is 36, but Geim is older. 51 or 52.

  4. “The last guys to win a Nobel here used Scotch tape!”

    Wouldn’t they call it “sellotape” though? (I’m reminded of when you talked about the British translation of your book.)

  5. Prasad: I think you are misunderstanding that fellowship. It’s the UK’s rough equivalent of NSF’s Presidential Young Investigator program. In case you’re thinking that the salary is a bit low, keep in mind that academic salaries in the UK are generally lower than in the US, so a ceiling of GBP37k (equivalent to about US$59k), plus London allowance if applicable (London is among the world’s most expensive cities), is not at all unreasonable for the equivalent of a tenure track assistant professor.

    Of course, Novoselov almost certainly was a postdoc at the time the research in question was done, and if he wasn’t then he was probably still a grad student.

  6. Geim’s co-winner of the Ig was Michael Berry, who’s also a perennial Nobel favorite. If he wins too, that might be more epic than my body has room for.

  7. There are probably quite a few people who have won an Ig Nobel and been part of an organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize. I used to work for someone who had been an active member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War when it won the Peace Prize and who was a co-winner of the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature.

  8. “Wouldn’t they call it “sellotape” though? (I’m reminded of when you talked about the British translation of your book.)”

    Yeah, they’d call it ‘sellotape’ or just ‘sticky tape’. ‘Scotch tape’ would also be understood, but would immediately stamp the speaker as an American.

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