Researchers use electron-beam lithography to microfabricate graphene devices. (Credit: University of Manchester, UK)

Two University of Manchester researchers have been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on graphene. The new physics laureates were announced today at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov extracted graphene from a piece of graphite using regular adhesive tape, according to the Nobel organization. They were able to obtain a flake of carbon in the graphene form, which at the time, 2004, was thought to be unstable.

Novoselov was a postdoctoral associate working with Geim in 2004 when the researchers discovered that they could make atomically thin slabs of carbon by repeatedly cleaving graphite — essentially pencil lead — with adhesive tape. Their 2004 Science paper describing the material and its electrical properties has already been cited more than 3,000 times.

Graphene is the one atom thick mesh of carbon atoms that shows astonishing electron mobility and may be the eventual route to super-fast electronics – particularly as it is more applicable to planar processing than carbon nanotubes.

“Graphene transistors are predicted to be substantially faster than today’s silicon transistors and result in more efficient computers,” the academy said in the citation. “Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels and maybe even solar cells.”

According to an MIT Tech Review 2009 story on graphene (a very good quick-read on the topic), the history of graphene, at least as a theoretical possibility, goes back to 1947, but there was resistance to research:

Even as Institute Professor Mildred Dresselhaus, her physicist husband Gene, and others were working in the 1960s with multiple layers of graphene, many scientists were saying that such an ultra-thin sheet of matter could never be found or even made. “It was very controversial; there were many people who were skeptical,” about the research, she says.

The Nobel prize comes with an award of about $1.5 million. A video of the announcement can be seen here.

The researchers’ review on the rise of graphene is now available for free at Nature Materials.

We’ve done countless posts on research using graphene and the material’s potential in applications. Some highlights are found below:

Geim to receive Korber prize for graphene discovery

Graphene memory possible?

Video of the week – The sight of individual carbon atoms in motion

MIT calls graphene a “material for all seasons”

Say ‘cheese’ to turn graphite to graphene

New method for graphene growth successful