We recently reported on Andre Geim, the Dutch physicist (positions at Manchester, Nijmegen, Delft) of Russian descent, who discovered the one-atom-thick carbon-based material graphene – together with his colleague Konstantin Novoselov. Today the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their joint work.
Graphene’s unique properties, being extremely thin, very stress-resistant and with an exceptionally high electron mobility (the carbon atoms are arranged in honeycomb structure – so each carbon atom only binds with 3 other carbon atoms, instead of the usual 4), make it especially useful as a tiny conductor in electronics, improving for instance battery power.
Modern-day electronics depend more and more on the availability of materials with weirder chemical tendencies. Perhaps the defining reason to award the Nobel Prize to graphene is that graphene, unique as its characteristics may be, is in the end just good old carbon. This means it does not create its own sustainability crisis, as do for instance lithium or the rare earth elements.
(c) Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org