The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Manchester Scientists win Nobel Prize

Two scientists at the University of Manchester have won the Nobel Prize for physics. The scientists were awarded the prize for their pioneering work on graphene, which they discovered in 2004.

Professor Andrew Geim’s and Professor Konstantin Novoselov’s Nobel Prize means there are currently four Novel Laureates at The University of Manchester. The pair were awarded the highest accolade in the scientific world for their pioneering work on graphene: the world’s thinnest material. Professor Novoselov, 36, is also the youngest Nobel Laureate since 1973.

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Two scientists at the University of Manchester have won the Nobel Prize for physics. The scientists were awarded the prize for their pioneering work on graphene, which they discovered in 2004.

Professor Andrew Geim’s and Professor Konstantin Novoselov’s Nobel Prize means there are currently four Novel Laureates at The University of Manchester. The pair were awarded the highest accolade in the scientific world for their pioneering work on graphene: the world’s thinnest material. Professor Novoselov, 36, is also the youngest Nobel Laureate since 1973.

The Mancunion spoke to Professor Novoselov as he rushed off to be filmed by a Russian TV crew.
Novoselov was on Skype talking to a friend in Holland when he heard about his award. The news was announced on Tuesday 5th October by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Professor Geim and Professor Novoselov receive 10m Swedish-kronor, the equivalent of £1million.

Professor Geim, 51, is known both for his academic excellent and as a creative and light-hearted physicist who published a scientific paper that was co-authored by his pet hamster. In other work, he proved that it was possible to levitate frogs using magnetic fields. The work on levitating frogs won him one of the most prestigious spoof prizes in science: the Ig Nobel Prize, awarded for humorous and improbable research.

The pair’s discovery came about through an experiment in 2004 that involved a block of carbon and some Scotch tape. The two used the tape to strip off layers of carbon that were only one atom thick. Known as graphene, their thin wafers were found to have extraordinary properties. The unusual material could transform electronics, from solar cells to computers and censors.

Professor Geim said of his achievement: “This is a fantastic honour. People have been talking about graphene as a possible prize winner for a number of years so for the community in graphene research it hardly comes as a surprise. However, I personally did not expect to get this prize. I slept soundly last night because I never expected to win it.

“Having won the Nobel Prize, some people sit back and stop doing anything, whereas others work so hard that they go mad in a few years. But I will be going into the office as usual and continuing to work hard and paddle through life as usual. I have lots of research papers to work on at the moment which all need writing up so I will be carrying on as normal.”

On the topic of their working relationship, Professor Geim commented: “I have a fantastic working relationship with Kostya [Novoselov]. We worked together in Holland and then I managed to bring him to England with me.

“Very often I fall out with people who don’t work hard but I have never fallen out with those who work as hard as Kostya [Novoselov].”

Tests showed the graphene layers were stretchy, as strong as steel and almost completely transparent. They are exceptionally good conductors of heat and electricity: properties that have made graphene one of the most exciting new materials for producing electronic components, from flexible touch screens to pollution sensors. The wafers can also be used to study some of the more peculiar effects of quantum mechanics.

Graphene consists of carbon atoms held together in a lattice like chicken wire. Drawing a pencil across a sheet of paper produces thin sheets of graphite, but Professor Geim and Professor Novoselov were the first to separate these sheets into wafers only a single atom thick. There are three million sheets of graphene in a millimetre-thick layer of graphite.

Professor Novoselov explains these quirky experiments: “We’d just try these crazy things and sometimes they worked and sometimes not. Graphene was one of those that worked from the very beginning. It’s such a robust material and all the effects were so pronounced.

“All this graphene business is very exciting, but we’ve been doing it for a while and we’re trying to establish some new directions. I really like it here and want to do my research in Manchester.

“I was really shocked when I heard the news and my first thought was to go to the lab and tell the team. I didn’t know until this morning when I had a call from Stockholm. We have had a fantastic seven years working together on this new material graphene.”

Professor Novoselov also commented on the fact that he is the youngest Nobel winner in decades: “It’s great to be a young academic at The University of Manchester and I’m grateful to everyone who has collaborated with us.”

Thanasis Georgiou, a PhD student who works alongside Professor Novoselov congratulated him: “He’s my supervisor, I’ve been working with him for the last five or six months or so. It’s truly a lifetime achievement. We’re all very proud of him. It wasn’t ever my plan to be the PhD student of a guy who’s won the Nobel Prize. It’s truly, truly special. The research that I’m doing, I have to push harder, and raise the bar now.

“It’s the plan of every physicist in the world [to win a Nobel Prize] so how could it not be in mine?”
Dame Nancy Rothwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester also congratulated the pair: “This is fantastic news. We are delighted that Andre and Konstantin’s work on graphene has been recognised at the very highest level by the 2010 Nobel Prize Committee.

“This is a wonderful example of a fundamental discovery based on scientific curiosity with major practical, social and economic benefits for society.”

Professor Geim joined the University in 2001 as Professor of Physics and during his career has published 150 peer-refereed research papers. Professor Novoselov joined the University as Leverhulme Research Fellow in 2005.

Professor Novoselov summed up the win, by telling The Mancunion: “Everybody wants to win the Nobel Prize, but the most important thing is to forget about it and to get back to the work.”

“We’ve go a huge crew of students and we couldn’t do anything without them,” said Novoselov.