Thin as an atom, with amazing strength and electrical properties, graphene is the scientific find of the century. But it all came about from mucking about in a lab in Manchester, England
The creation of graphene, a wonder material that promises to transform the future, is already the stuff of scientific legend. As a piece of brilliant serendipity it stands alongside the accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming – and it might prove just as valuable.
The path to graphene, the wonder material? Keep peeling graphite till you are left with one atomic layer
Two Russian-émigré scientists at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, were playing about with flakes of carbon graphite in an attempt to investigate its electrical properties when they decided to see if they could make thinner flakes with the help of sticky Scotch tape.
They used the tape to peel off a layer of graphite from its block and then repeatedly peeled off further layers from the original cleaved flake until they managed to get down to flakes that were only a few atoms thick.
They soon realised that by repeatedly sticking and peeling back the Scotch tape they could get down to the thinnest of all possible layers, one atom thick – a material with unique and immensely interesting properties.
When the two scientists won their joint Nobel prize in physics in 2010 for their ground-breaking experiments, the Nobel committee made a point of citing the “playfulness” that was one of the hallmarks of the way they have worked together.
Cover image: Professor André Geim, Nobel Prize for Physics 2010 (via 52-insights.com)
Research projects in this story
The Graphene Flagship Project is one of the EU main research lines. It aims at unveiling and exploiting the properties of graphene, a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms. Currently, graphene is the lightest and thinnest material known to humankind. For its unique characteristics and the potential to disclose new, exciting horizons in the field of materials science, graphene was labelled “the wonder material”.