A material that ought not to exist: Nobel 2010


Helena Dodziuk

© Helena Dodziuk




Rarely, the Nobel Prize in physics evokes such a keen interest among chemists as did honoring graphene in 20101. More than 70 years ago, Landau and Peierls found that strictly two-dimensional crystals are thermodynamically unstable and cannot exist. Afterwards experimental investigations of the properties of thin films seemed to confirm this. Obtaining graphene and other isolated high quality 2D crystals in 2004 by Andre Geim, Novoselov and collaborators2 was possible because they were obtained either from a three-dimensional crystal or produced on a support. In such cases, generally one deals not with one but with a greater number of layers. It is believed that 10 layers of graphene create a three-dimensional crystal structure of graphite. The history of this discovery is vividly described in an interview (http://sciencewatch.com./inter/aut/2008/08-aug/08augSWGeim/). To obtain graphene flakes Geim, Novoselov and coworkers originally used Scotch tape





Fig. 1. Graphene layer made of carbon atoms (left) and graphite built of the graphene layers (right). © Wikipedia.



(definitely, not a high-tech method). Producing high quality large graphene monolayers vital for applications was not possible for long time. Recently Polish researchers patented a method enabling this3. The prize was awarded for "groundbreaking experiments with the two-dimensional material graphene" that has amazing properties. It is the first genuinely two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional material with the greatest surface area to weight ratio, the highest stiffness and the tensile strength much higher than that of steel. At the same time it is transparent over a wide range of wavelengths, has high electrical conductivity (the resistance is 31 ohm m-2) and exhibits quantum Hall effect4,5. Electrons in graphene behave in a unique way: in the conventional solid-state physics they are described by the Schrödinger equation while in graphene they mimic relativistic particles described by the Dirac equation, because they interact with periodic honeycomb network of graphene.

A few words about the Nobel Prize winners: Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. A great deal is known about Geim. He was a Russian German, his ancestors were held in Gulag camps; he was a victim of anti-Semitism (he suspected that the cause was his Jewish sounding name, not having a Jewish great-grandmother). His parents and brother with his family immigrated to Germany, where they reverted to the German version of their name Heim. Geim became bilingual in English in a special high school where he also developed a passion for science. He passed twice entrance examinations to the elite MIFI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) but was not admitted. He succeeded only when he applied to another prestigious institution Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT). MIPT was a teaching institution of the highest caliber: lectures there were given by Nobel Prize winners and several of its students won the Prize later. It was nicknamed the “Russian MIT”. Geim received his PhD in Moscow, but after three post-doctoral internships in Western Europe (he is a citizen of the Netherlands) settled in Britain, where he brought to his group his earlier informal student Novoselov before the latter defended his PhD. Of more than 150 works by Geim, 14 were published in Nature and Science, three of his papers have been cited over 1000 times and 25 - more than 100 times. As rated by ScienceWatch, Geim launched two new areas of research: graphene and gecko tape. The latter, a tape prepared on the basis of biomimetics, takes advantage of the method used by gecko lizard to walk on the ceiling. Another achievement of Geim was obtaining, together with M. Berry, in 2001 the Ig Nobel Prize for his research on the levitation of a frog as a diamagnetic body in magnetic field6. It is worth noting that Geim is the only scientist who won both the Nobel and Ig Noble awards.




Fig. 2. A live frog levitating as a diamagnetic body in magnetic field. © Wikipedia


Geim cannot complain about the lack of imagination. In 2001, he made his hamster Tisha a co-author of a publication7.

Geim's wife, Irina Grigor'eva, is an acknowledged scientist on her own and his collaborator.

As a Pole, I would like to mention that there is a Polish link in the Geim family. His great grandfather, a German nobleman Karl Ziegler took part in the 1863 uprising for Polish independence (at the time Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungarian empire). He was deported to Siberia for his involvement on the Polish side.


         (1)     Geim, A. K.; Novoselov, K. S. Nature Mat. 2007, 6, 183-191.

         (2)     Geim, A. K.; Novoselov, K. S.; Morozov, S. V.; Jiang, D.; Zhang, Y.; Dubonos, S. V.; Grigorieva, I. V.; Firsov, A. A. Science 2004, 306 no. 5696, 666-669.

         (3)     http://scienceinpoland.pap.pl/en/news/news,409234,polish-graphene-production-method-with-us-and-the-eu-patents.html

         (4)     Geim, A. K.; Novoselov, K. S.; Morozov, S. V.; Jiang, D.; Katsnelson, M. I.; Grigorieva, I. V.; Dubonos, S. V.; Firsov, A. A. Nature 2005, 438, 197-200.

         (5)     Zhang, Y.; Tan, Y.-W.; Stormer, H. L.; Kim, P. Nature 2005, 438, 201-204.

         (6)     Geim, A. K.; Berry, M. V. Eur. J. Phys. 2000, 18, 307-313.

         (7)     Geim, A. K.; Tisha, H. A. M. S. t. Physica B: Condensed Matter 2001, 294-295, 736–739.