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Sir Andre Geim

Nobel Prize in Physics

2010

In the near future, smartphones could become so thin and flexible that they could be wrapped around your wrist like a cuff. That is just one of the many possibilities unlocked by Sir Andre Geim’s discovery of a wonder material called graphene. 

Made up of a single layer of carbon atoms, graphene is the world’s thinnest known material but is also hundreds of times stronger than steel. It is also a fantastic conductor of heat and electricity, and flexible to boot. 

Its astonishing properties have led scientists to experiment with using it to make a wide variety of products, including more efficient water filters and solar panels, superfast computer chips and quantum dots to deliver medical drugs more effectively. 

Sir Andre and his research partners discovered graphene when they were trying to investigate the electrical properties of graphite, another form of carbon. While trying to make the thin films of graphite necessary for this research, they discovered that they could simply use Scotch tape to peel off flakes from a graphite crystal. 

By using the sticky tape repeatedly, they could even whittle a flake down to the thickness of a single atom. This process led to their first breakthrough: the isolation and identification of graphene. 

While the Scotch tape story has become a scientific legend, the more important discoveries came afterwards, when Sir Andre and his colleagues continued to probe the material’s properties and uncovered, among other things, its electrical conductivity.  

After they published their findings in the Science journal, other researchers rushed to explore graphene’s properties and its potential applications. In 2010, Sir Andre and his colleague, Professor Konstantin Novoselov, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking work on the material.

Even now, new uses for graphene are being discovered. Sir Andre, his wife Irina, who is also a scientist, and other researchers co-authored a paper published in 2016 that showed that tiny balloons made from graphene can withstand enormous pressure. This could make them useful for studying how molecules react under extreme pressure. 

Sir Andre, in the meantime, is also studying other two-dimensional materials. Even if these do not turn out to have the same wide-ranging potential as graphene, they could still be useful and expand scientists’ toolbox. 

His graphene research and other discoveries have earned him many awards and honours apart from the Nobel Prize. These include the British Royal Society’s Copley Medal and Hughes Medal, the United States National Academy of Sciences’ John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, and the Körber European Science Award.