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Sir Andre Geim

Nobel Prize in Physics

2010

Just as stone, bronze, silicon and plastics changed the world, the growing array of two-dimensional materials with amazing properties are likely to shape our future. Sir Andre Geim and his research partners discovered graphene, the first of these wonder 2D materials, so-called because they are made up of a single layer of atoms.

While trying to make thin films of graphite, a form of carbon, to study its electrical properties, they realised that they could use Scotch tape to peel flakes from a graphite crystal. By using the sticky tape repeatedly, they got thinner and thinner flakes, and by attaching the flakes to a plate of oxidised silicon and putting it under a microscope, they saw fragments that were made up of a single layer of carbon atoms – graphene.

Since their discovery, they have gone on to uncover some of graphene’s astonishing qualities. Graphene is hundreds of times stronger than steel, a fantastic conductor of electricity and heat, and flexible to boot. Researchers have experimented with using it to make superfast computer chips, quantum dots to deliver medical drugs more effectively, and more efficient water filters and solar panels.

In 2010, Sir Geim and his research partner Sir Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on graphene. The Nobel Prize committee said: “A material consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice and only one atom thick was long considered a purely theoretical construction. They produced this material and mapped its properties. With graphene, they have written themselves into the annals of science.”

Sir Geim continues to research graphene and other 2D materials. He also recently published a paper exploring the 2D empty space left behind when graphene is removed from graphite. He said: “These are early days for research on 2D cavities, and their properties been probed only in a few experiments. Still, the results indicate a plethora of interesting science to come.”

He is currently the Regius Professor and Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute. Apart from the Nobel Prize, he won the 2011 Niels Bohr Medal, 2013 Copley Medal, and other prizes. He was knighted in the Netherlands in 2010, and in the United Kingdom in 2012.