Nobel-Prize-winning graphene research highlights AFOSR-funded physicists
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, announced recently the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to Professor Andre Geim and Dr. Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester for their 2004 graphene research.
Mr. Geim and Dr. Novoselov achieved science’s highest honor by isolating and measuring the properties of a single atomic sheet of graphite, called graphene which is now generating much research interest because of its unique properties of being stronger than steel yet flexible and stretchable.
In 2008 Lieutenant Colonel Scott Dudley, physics program manager at Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s European Office of Aerospace Research and Development in London, funded Mr. Geim and Dr. Novoselov to improve graphene’s electrical quality, chemically modify it, and to produce larger and higher quality single crystal flakes.
“Graphene is an amazing material and it has wide-ranging promise for Air Force applications in areas such as low power and microelectronics, terahertz sources and sensors, and flexible compact displays,” said Colonel Dudley. “Its chemical applications could include hydrogen storage and molecular sensing.”
“I first learned of graphene in a lunch which by chance included Dr. Philip Kim of Columbia University, another graphene pioneer, in March 2007, some months before starting with EOARD,” he said. “The fact the material looked so promising, and the discoverers were in Manchester within our London office’s purview, led to Geim and Novoselov’s grant being the first I initiated.”
The Nobelists achieved the initial isolation of graphene with regular sticky tape using a process called exfoliation which enabled them to peel away layers from graphite flakes until there was one layer remaining. Novoselov hand soldered the first graphitic device without even a clean room.
“As remarkable as the material is, it is equalled by the story of the discovery and the very low tech so-called Scotch Tape method of isolation,” said Colonel Dudley. “The whole thing could have been done in a garage, albeit one with a decent microscope typically found on most college campuses.”
The idea for this isolation sprang from what they called their Friday evening experiments, where their group would try new ideas no matter how odd they seemed.
‘You are not allowed to use any complicated machinery or anything, you just do something on your knees with your bare hands and if it works, it works,’ Dr. Novoselov said to Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org minutes after learning he’d won the Nobel Prize.
Mr. Geim told Nobelprize.org, “It shows people that, in fact, you don’t need to be at Harvard or Cambridge, in one of the universities which collect the smartest people and the best equipment, but you still can do something significant and which brings more enthusiasm to a young generation of inspiring scientists that they can do something without being at the best place at the best time.”
“It’s 200 times stronger than steel; its thermal conductivity is the highest known, higher than diamond; it can handle the largest sustained current densities, roughly a million times higher than copper; its electrical mobility is some 100 times better than silicon, and that’s just a partial list of its superlatives,” notes Colonel Dudley. “While the promise is amazing, the amount of work to be done has grown in step with it. The exciting thing is the development of graphene is happening fast, for example, DARPA has a substantial program pushing wafer scale devices.”
Dr. Novoselov visited Wright Patterson Air Force Base; Ohio in March 2009 to discuss graphene with researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Mr.Geim visited Arlington, Va. in April 2010 to discuss graphene research directions with AFOSR and the Office of Naval Research.
In addition, AFRL researchers have visited the group in Manchester in 2008 and 2009, and they invited Dr John Boeckl of AFRL into their lab where he spent two months this summer conducting research. This opportunity was enabled through AFOSR’s “Windows on the World” program which funds USAF researchers to travel and work abroad.
“Andre and Kostya are outstanding scientists, who’ve not only discovered something fantastic but continue to lead and steer the field,” said Colonel Dudley. “Their openness and sphere of collaboration is phenomenal and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them.”
He believes that graphene has some amazing quantum properties which some researchers will probably figure out how to exploit in a new way.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s another Nobel out there in the future related to graphene. Who knows, perhaps Kostya and Andre will end up with two,” said Colonel Dudley.
The Nobel Award in Physics will be presented to Professor Andre Geim, and Dr. Konstantin Novoselov on December 10, 2010 at the Annual Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden.