Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 Physics Nobel Well Deserved

The Nobel Prize in Physics is sometimes given for stuff that strikes me as pretty pointless. The Committee too frequently hands them out for things that advance neither theory nor technology.

They're also often influenced heavily by 'science politics' (i.e. popularity and jostling for attention, not the sort of politics in environmental science). But this year the Swedish Academy has really done themselves proud, granting the prize to two University of Manchester researchers (Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov) who did pioneering work on graphene.

Among the many amazing properties of this stuff is:
“[it's] stronger and stiffer than diamond, yet can be stretched by a quarter of its length, like rubber. Its surface area is the largest known for its weight.”
[and formed the world's first] "one-nanometer graphene transistor, only one atom thick and ten atoms across."
[Not to mention} using carbon nanotubes to create wearable electronics — clothes that can power and charge electrical devices — are beginning to switch to graphene, which is thinner and potentially less expensive to produce.
[Also,] strong, flexible, light-sensitive graphene could improve the efficiency of solar cells and LEDs, as well as aiding in the production of next-generation devices like flexible touch screens, photodetectors and ultrafast lasers. In particular, graphene could replace rare and expensive metals like platinum and iridium, performing the same tasks with greater efficiency at a fraction of the cost.
This list goes on for some length. What's most striking about all this is that all these possibilities come from a form of simple carbon, one of the most common elements on the planet. And here we are stupidly burning the stuff to make electricity (producing genuine pollution — like radioactive particles that wind up in your lungs — in the process).

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