Nobel nano

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Andre Geim and his Manchester University colleague Kostya Novoselov have been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of graphene: a material consisting of carbon atoms arranged in single-atom-thick layers which may be stacked to form a bulk substance with unique chemical, electrical and mechanical properties. You can think of graphene as graphite – the stuff in your pencils ­­­­-­ shaved down to the smallest possible dimension.

The product of fundamental materials science research, graphene has a number of applications in electronics, and as a structural material harder than diamond. Some say that graphene will replace silicon as the base material in microelectronics. However, Geim and Novoselov, both of whom I know through having interviewed them as part of my journalistic reporting on developments in nanoscience, are not the type to make grand claims. What marks these two physicists is their tendency to understatement, and a general care with words.

Like others working in the nanoscience field, Geim (aka the Frog Levitator) and Novoselov are passionate about their work, and their enthusiasm for the subject shines through in interviews. In the conversations I had with the two physicists, I was spared the tedious hype that so often accompanies announcements of nanomaterials developments, and for that I am most grateful. With Geim and Novoselov I was able to concentrate on reporting the substance of their work, and conveying to readers the potential of graphene in practical applications, while stressing the very real difficulties involved in producing the material in industrial quantities.

As well collaborating enthusiastically if cautiously in my reporting of their own research, Geim and Novoselov provided me with informal peer review of others’ work in graphene development. This proved extremely valuable to me as an outsider unfamiliar with the detailed goings-on in the nanoscience and technology community. Geim and Novoselov could be critical of work they regarded as problematic, but at the same time they were always fair and balanced in their comments, and gracious when it came to the individuals concerned.

Physicists, scholars and gentlemen, Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov are most worthy winners of the Nobel Prize.