Al Jazeera speaks to Konstantin Novoselov, co-winner of the physics prize, on his work on graphene.
Two Russian-born scientists have been awarded the 2010 Nobel prize for physics for “groundbreaking experiments” with the thinnest, strongest material known to mankind, a carbon vital for the creation of faster computers and transparent touch screens.
The Noble committee announced on Tuesday that Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester in England have won the award for their experiments with graphene.
Graphene is a flat sheet of carbon just one-atom thick. It is almost completely transparent, but also extremely strong and a good conductor of electricity.
One hundred times stronger than steel, graphene is a new form of carbon that is both the thinnest and toughest material known.
“Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels and maybe even solar cells,” the Nobel committee said.
Speaking from Stockholm on the decision, Börje Johansson of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, who is also a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, told Al Jazeera: “The discovery has satisfied the physics, chemistry and material committee for its versatile use.
“You can think of graphene as a touch screen to protect your computer, and it can also be used as a gas sensor that could detect poison. It can be a very sensitive means to determine if you have poisoned gas in your room. It has taken a lot of imagination for the researchers to discover this.”
Novoselov, 36, is a dual British-Russian citizen while Geim, 51, is a Dutch citizen. A committee official described him as the youngest physics laureate since 1973.
Novoselov told the Reuters news agency he was keen to move on.
“I’ve had a bit too much graphene in my life. I’ve been working on it for seven years now, so we want to explore a little bit away from this area,” he said in a telephone interview.
The pair extracted the material from a piece of graphite such as that found in ordinary pencils using adhesive tape, repeating the trick until they were left with minuscule flakes of graphene. They unveiled the discovery six years ago.
Geim, speaking at a Nobel news conference via telephone, said he had not expected the prize and would try not to let the news change his routine.
“My plan for today is to go to work and finish up a paper that I didn’t finish this week. I just try to muddle on as before,” he said.
Referring to graphene technology, Geim said: “It’s a humble technique. But the hard work came later.”
He compared the material to plastics in its ability to revolutionise the world. “It has all the potential to change your life in the same way that plastics did, It is really exciting,” he said.
Geim last year won the prestigious Korber European Science Award for the discovery, the University of Manchester said.
The prize of $1.5 million, awarded by the Nobel Committee for Physics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, was the second of this year’s Nobel prizes.
Robert Edwards, the British scientist who helped make millions of “test tube babies” a reality, was given the medicine award on Monday.
Test tube babies
Edwards, who is professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, received the award for his work developing in vitro fertilisation, or IVF – the science behind what is now popularly known as test tube babies.
The Nobel committee chose to recognise Edwards a full five decades after he first began his research into fertilisation outside the womb as a solution to infertility. Eggs are removed from a woman, fertilised with sperm in a lab dish and then implanted back into her uterus.
“His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10 per cent of all couples worldwide,” the committee in Stockholm said in its citation.
The chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, followed by literature on Thursday, the peace prize on Friday and economics on Monday October 11.
The prestigious awards were created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first given out in 1901.
The prizes are always handed out on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.